Archive | April, 2009

Are You a Fundamentalist?

Are you a Fundamentalist, Emerger, Evangelical, or Liberal.

Click on this picture and post your results here. (Or, in the words of Biff Tannen—Chicken?).

fundamentalist

(P.S. I don’t want to hear anything about how we should not label ourselves! Lighten up!)

(P.P.S. Yes, you do have to have a Facebook account. Quit putting it off, you will have one within a year anyway.)

Observations From the Shelf: An Inside View of Seminary

As many of you probably know, I am finishing up my first year of the ThM program at Dallas Theological Seminary.  It has been a wonderful experience overall, yet filled with a few holes of personal challenges and discouragements.  But these cannot be compare with the glory of attending seminary and I am very delighted that God in His providence, saw fit to bring me to DTS.

My motivation to attend seminary is probably not uncommon to many others.  Becoming more in tune with increased definition and passion around spiritual gifts and interests, the intense and specialized training that seminary would provide seemed to be the next logical step.  However, I have discovered that while the fuel may be ministry driven, there is a wide spectrum of expectations regarding the seminary experience and theological learning.   Moreover, I have found it naive to presume that all are there for intense theological training or even ministry.

In fact, now that I have my first year just about under my belt, I have learned that the view from inside is quite different than the view from outside.  From my own perspective, the experiences, classes, people has well, given me a different perspective than when I first started.  In other words, whatever I had envisioned seminary to be I have experienced a somewhat different picture. And I still have 3 more years to go so I imagine that there are more adjustments to take place.

Even more so, I have to imagine that as much as my own perspective has changed, that for many outside the seminary gates there are perception or misperceptions about what seminary is about: the learning process, training, instruction, program requirements and even the people, that are part of the seminary experience.  So I wanted to share some insights and experiences that hopefully will dispel any myths about seminary and maybe even garner some sympathy :)

Theological Training

This is the whole enchilada, you might be thinking. No doubt, this is at the heart of seminary learning.  It is learning the “big words” as Michael’s recent post illuminated, about theological topics and development.  And I was expecting this.  Having taken most of the TTP courses, my expectation was TTP intensified.  I envisioned students in constant wrangling sessions with each other and with professors about key doctrinal issues and deviations.  I assumed that each class would invite the opportunity for professors to squeeze every bit of brain power and information from students and grilling them with the socratic method in order to effectively argue varying theological positions.

I do get the impression that when folks outside think of the seminary learning, there is the picture of learning about theological development and positions in this manner. But that’s all, that it consists of a series of academic exercises with no tangible connection to spiritual growth or development.   I have found that this is simply not the case.  Don’t get me wrong.  The program is intense and weighty academic topics are taught, especially for the ThM program (as opposed to the MA programs).  And professors do want to engage students in a learning process, but it is not to tear them down but to build them up.  Yes, there is the expectation of learning in an academic format but is motivate out of a nurture and encouragement.   And the theological training is entrenched in a spiritual foundation that is highlighted with each class, that always starts with prayer.

And I have been blown away at how some of the classes have caused me to reflect very deeply about my own faith and commitment to Christ, such as World Missions and Spiritual Life.  The professors had a way of placing the academic learning in a Scriptural context that was both convicting and humbling.  Each class, in fact, always redirects the core foundation of Christ and Scripture. Even Greek, which is probably the most intensely academic discipline that I have discovered.  Greek is grueling, I will not lie but constantly begs to honestly consider the Biblical text and reflect on important theological truths in context of God’s redemptive plan for His creation.  And one thing I will probably never say again is “in greek, this word means X”.  As we are getting into more translation, we always have to consider the context…ALWAYS.

More significantly, there are the constant reminders even through the academic learning, to stay true to the only real foundation of being there in the first place, to glorify the risen Savior and point others towards Him.  Chapel messages reinforce this to always keep Christ first and our educational process second (especially when Chuck Swindoll speaks)  And so often I have heard to not neglect the more significant things, precious communion with God, with family and with friends.

So this does not mean to neglect theological training in favor of devotions, but to always consider the context of our learning.  Because on the flip side, I have discovered that not all want to engage in theological discourse.  It does make me wonder if seminary training is about getting a degree and little else.  My position is to milk it, to take advantage of the tremendous resources available, namely the professors.  Pick their brain, ask questions and expound on recent illuminations and learning.  I welcome correction because here is the time be wrong rather than graduate and lead others in error.  In fact, I recently wrote an article for the school paper (yet to appear) encouraging my fellow students to make sure that checking one’s theology is on the checklist.  Because we can go through the academic process and meet requirements, without ever contending with our own positions and thoughts about God.  So I get a little concerned with that student that does not seem too interested in theological discourse and can only hope that at least in private, there is a mindset of any needed reconciliation.

Balancing Priorities

I’ll be honest, this is tricky.  The workload is intense and for someone like me, that really wants to dig in stop and smell the historical developed roses, sometimes there just isn’t time.  You read as much as you can, while you can and wherever you can and often, I have felt it has not been enough.  There is always a paper or some other written assignment that is due and sometimes you can feel that you are just trying to keep up with the work and get the assignments done.   For me, seminary is more than getting assignments done or even getting good grades.  Learning is where its at but the pace can put a damper on that.  Thank God for the 2 week breaks to catch up and dig in!  Nonetheless, I think that if one is not mindful or desirous of the learning process, seminary can divulge into a sea of deadlines and nothing else and what a tragedy that would be.

One of the biggest temptations is to substitute the reading assignments and chapel for personal Bible study and church.  I think how this priority is balance will determine alot of the value of seminary training and whether it was a means to an end or means to the end of where real ministry begins.  It does not surprise me that there are those who come out of seminary and quit ministry within 5 years.  Seminary is the time to deepen fellowship with the Father not substitute it.  The work load is great and this is one of the biggest dangers I see.

Personal Development

One of the most significant things that I’ve learned is that ministry training extends beyond the classroom.  Yes, there is the expectation that students will be involved in ministry and just about everyone that I know is actively engaged in ministry at their church.  But that is not what I’m talking about.  I have discovered that just about every student experiences some degree of trials while in school, that challenges soon present themselves threatening distraction or even abandonment of the program.  And I personally think this is divinely orchestrated to foster servant leadership while still in school as part of the training process for ministry leadership.  Growth under pressure.

I think this is a necessary part of personal development and training for leadership.  I don’t think there could be little more tragic than that person who has gone unchallenged, graduates with a DTS (or any other seminary for that matter) certificate in hand and falls on their face in ministry because personal issues had gone unaddressed while in school.  The first two years we follow a Spiritual Formation curriculum, which consists of personal growth and development in a small group with about 5-6 other people (same gender).  That’s the platform to really pay attention to personal pitfalls and address whatever needs to be addressed. It is here, I think, where the fork in the road can occur between integrity and masking.  I shudder at the person who might give lip service to this process but in their heart, are determined to fulfill their own agenda that may have little to do with the servant leadership that DTS aims to foster.

So personal integrity is indeed fostered.  There is a tremendous amount of self-reporting that is needed such as chapel attendance, reading reports and even take home exams.  It is left to the individual person to be honest.   Here is where I think small lapses can occur where the demands of the program become more important that personal integrity.  Some will fudge here and there, indicating they did work they did not do or opening up material that shouldn’t be opened during an exam.  I am reminded that its the little foxes that spoil the vines, those small seemingly insignficant lapses that can widen to broader and more noticable lapses if remained unchecked.  I am already aware of those fudge and it makes me look at my own integrity a little harder.

In the end, it does come down to choice, priorities and what one does with the seminary training.  I was reminded today in chapel that education is nothing in and of itself.  All the systematic theology, language, history, Bible exposition, preaching, and ministry training classes are meaningless if applied towards disingenuous intent and selfish pursuits that may even serve detrimental to the glory of Christ and destructive to His church.  But I am also reminded that the training is vital to learn to accurately handle the precious word of God and to honestly lead others into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  THAT is the whole enchilada and what should compel any leader to take seminary training really serious.   Moreover, I think it should give us pause to apply a standardized assessment of someone that has attended seminary, simply because they have attended.

In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part 10 – A Historical Defense

This is the final installment of my Sola Scriptura series.
The previous posts (post crash) can be found here. Or you can download entire series in rough PDF.

UPDATE: I have already deleted about 10 comments today. Please don’t just spam with quotes from the church fathers. Had the poster who did read the entire series, he would have seen that the quotes used don’t argue against sola Scriptura, properly defined. So please, if you are going to engage, read the rest of the series. I don’t have the time to recreate all the previous posts so that others can get up to speed enough to engage here! Thanks for your attention to the blog rules as well.

I have attempted to present a balanced look at the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura. This is a doctrine that I hold to very strongly and believe is a sine qua non of Protestantism. What I mean by this is that this doctrine forms an essential bedrock of Reformation orthodoxy.

In the previous posts I have step by step attempted to defend this doctrine against competing models of authority held by both Catholics and (sometimes) Eastern Orthodox. But one of the most substantial claims that those who deny sola Scriptura make is that it does not find representation in the history of the church. In fact, Roman Catholics would argue that church history holds to a dual-source theory where unwritten tradition and Scripture are equal and the Magisterial authority of the Catholic church infallibly interprets both.

I agree that it would be a substantial argument if in the history of the church we cannot find the principles of sola Scriptura being held, but this is simply not the case. I offer two arguments here:

1. To require that one produce an articulated view of sola Scriptura in history is anachronistic. An anachronism is where one enforces a contemporary articulation of an idea or use of a word on an ancient audience. This is not unlike what many Christian cults do with the doctrine of the Trinity. They ask orthodox Christians to produce historical verification for the Trinity prior to 325 A.D. (the date of the Council of Nicea, when the Trinity was articulated in its near current form). They are not looking for seeds of the principle beliefs, but an actual articulation. Expecting to find the doctrine of sola Scriptura commits the same type fallacy. Both suffer from the same presumption that if something is true, we will find it in its current articulated form from the beginning. This assumption is unjustified and finds no parallel in any other discipline.

The doctrine of sola Scriptura as defined in this series was explained and articulated as such precisely because of the controversies of the 16th century. Search all you will and you will not find the phase “sola Scriptura” before the Reformation just as you won’t find the word “Trinity” commonly used before Nicea. But, in both cases, I do believe you will find the doctrine in seed form. In other words, the doctrine of sola Scriptura was undeveloped before the Reformation, but it was present in its undeveloped form. Continue Reading →

Why Do I (A Calvinist) Go to An Arminian Church?

As many of you know, my family and I moved to Norman, Oklahoma, a year and a half ago primarily due to my mother’s illness. Previously, we lived in Frisco, Texas, where I was a pastor at Stonebriar Community Church for six years. We all loved the church. We loved the people, the commitment to the preaching of God’s word, and the reverence for certain traditions. Oh, and did I mention grace?! That is why I went there in the first place – grace! Rarely (and sadly) do you find a passionate commitment to the word of God and a attitude of grace. This situation gives forth to energy. Call it the power of God, the movement of the Holy Spirit, or whatever you will according to your tradition, but the church was alive. I wanted to be there every day. I miss it greatly.

Grace and truth. The two most important elements in my hierarchy of looking for a church.

Notice, to the surprise of many, I did not list “perfect theology” as a criteria. I did not even say theology that I am always comfortable with (since there is no perfect theology). At Stonebriar, I had it all. Just about everything Chuck taught, I agreed with. If not, I loved the man so much that I would bend myself to agree with him! (At least for that Sunday.) Of course, Chuck is a pastor more than a professional theologian. But he was committed to sound theology and he is a Calvinist! (a four pointer at least). Oh the depths and riches of reformed preaching! The power, the hope, the pride that can be taken when God’s sovereignty is preached in such a way.

However, today I do not go to a Calvinistic church. In fact, I am at an Arminian church. In fact (again), I am a regular teacher at a church that is both Arminian and Egalitarian. In fact (last time), last week I had to call the pastor that I am under to ask if it was okay for me to teach on “Women in the Church,” a topic in a current series I am on. This church is called Crossings Community Church and it is part of the Church of God, Anderson (not the charismatic Church of God you may be thinking of).

Let me briefly define a few terms before we move on (I will get in trouble if I don’t. If you already know these “big” words, move on. If not, learn them! – its not that hard):

Calvinist: One who believes in the doctrines of grace most traditionally defined by the TULIP acronym. The most controversial of the doctrines are Unconditional Election: the belief that God elects some individuals to salvation and not other based upon his sovereign will; Limited Atonement: the belief that Christ’s death only paid for the sins of the elect; Irresistible Grace: the belief that when God’s saving grace is presented to the elect, it is always effective (i.e. they will not ever reject it); and Perseverance of the Saints: the belief that those who are saved (the elect) will persevere and cannot “lose” their salvation.

Arminian: One who denies all of the Calvinistic doctrines of grace except the first, Total Depravity. The Arminian will opt for a belief in “Conditional” election: the belief that God’s predestination is based on the foreseen faith of the individual; “Resistible” grace: the belief that God’s saving grace can be rejected by anyone; “Unlimited” atonement: the belief that Christ’s death paid for the sins of every individual; and the belief that a truly saved person and fall from or “lose” their salvation.

Complementarianism: Belief in essential equality, but functional hierarchy in the sexes. This hierarchy is by God’s design and is not due to the fall. Man is to be the leader in the church and home. Women are not to be in positions of authority over man in the church or home, but are honored due to their role in the same way as men.

Egalitarianism: Belief in the essential and functional equality of the sexes. All role distinctions which imply leadership belonging to the man is due to the fall, not by God’s design. Therefore, women can serve in positions of authority over man in both the church and the home. Role is assigned by individual giftedness, not gender.

So . . . Why does this Calvinistic Complementarian go to an Arminian Egalitarian church? Continue Reading →

The Theology Program Online Classes Start Next Week: Enroll Now

The Theology Program: Spring (2) 2009 Semester

Please help spread the word. Post on your site. (See graphics below)

Please note, this is online students only. To find more about the online program, go here. Everyone is welcome to join!
Scholarships are available. Contact carrie@reclaimingthemind.org to request.

Bibliology & Hermeneutics

Instructor: C. Michael Patton ThM.
Online meeting dates: Tuesdays 9pm – 10pm (GMT-5 Hours) May 5 – July 6, 2009
Course Time Requirements: About 3 hours per week.
Enroll now

Course description
This course focuses on the authority, nature, and interpretation (hermeneutics) of the Scriptures. It is designed to help students work through issues that concern the trust they place in the Bible and its interpretation. We will compare the various Christian traditions’ views of authority, examining the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura. The Scripture will be studied as an ancient text focusing on its transmission and canonization. We will also ask tough questions concerning the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. We will then look at how the Church has interpreted the Scriptures throughout history, ending our time by looking at current trends in Evangelical hermeneutics.

This course will meet Tuesday nights, 9-10 p.m. Eastern time, for 10 weeks beginning on May 5th 2009, and finishing on July 7th, 2009. Course cost $100.00 USD.

Humanity & Sin

Instructor: C. Michael Patton ThM.
Online meeting dates: Tuesdays 10pm – 11pm (GMT-5 Hours) May 5 – July 6th, 2009
Course Time Requirements: About 3 hours per week.
Enroll now

Course description

Why did God create man? What is man anyway? What is the Fall? How can people be condemned for a sin they did not commit? Do we have a free will? Is there such a thing? Men and women: what is the big difference? Hard questions that affect the way we view and relate to one another. This course is a study the nature of humanity and sin. We will look at the nature of humanity from a biblical perspective examining the what and why of man. We will spend time understanding the different theories about the composition of man and attempt to understand what it means to be in the image of God. The issue of free will shall be covered with sensitivity and conviction, tracing the debate through the centuries. We will also wrestle with issues pertaining to the nature, purpose, and design of the sexes, understanding that our stance will ultimately affect our view of marriage and society.

This course will meet Tuesday nights, 10-11 p.m. Eastern time, for 10 weeks beginning on May 5th 2009, and finishing on July 7th, 2009. Course cost $100.00 USD.

To find more about the online program, go here.

Help us spread the word. Here are some graphics to post.

the-theology-program-blogs

Blog Rules

1. Do not use the blog to promote yourself, as your surrogate blog, or as an advertisement. I am sure you are interesting and have some really nice things to say, but you can get your own blog.

2. Do not call authors out for debate. You must count the cost (Lk. 14:31). You don’t want to get whipped up on anyway.

3. Keep your comments short. Like when your comments are longer than the blog, that is too long. Try to keep them to 100 words.

4. In everything, be courteous and respectful. This does not mean that you agree, but take the extra time to write with tact, making the most of the opportunity.

5. Do not spam a post with comments one right after the other. Stay focused . . . one comment at a time is helpful.

6. Try not use this blog as a forum. While I don’t mind you engaging each other soon, there is a fine line between this and the post turning into a forum thread. You can use the forum at Theologica (http://theologica.ning.com) for these type of conversations.

7. Keep things on topic!!

If you need more information read this post:

“What if God Read Your Posts: A Reminder About Christian Conduct on the Internet”

If anyone violates these rules, the blog administrators will be forced to suspend your privileges. While this has no effect on your salvation, we will send you a t-shirt that says “I got suspended from Parchment and Pen . . . Oh yeah baby.”

John Rylands Papyrus for Sale (no Joke)

Ok, not the real John Rylands (P52), but a facsimile.

Use this collectors item for your library, office, school, or to aid you in teaching theology and the Bible.

You won’t find these any where else.

And to top it all of, you support Reclaiming the Mind Ministries when you purchase one (or two, or three).

Purchase here.

john-rylands-ad

A Theology of Big Words (2)

I argued in the previous post that big words are often necessary to communicate particular concepts. I also argued that language, being created by God, is the primary way that he has designed for communication. Big words are not necessarily long or hard to pronounce, but they are words that are technical and precise in communicating ideas, and words that most people have not ever heard of. I encouraged people to use them strategically.

However, there have been some objections that I feel warrant another post.

Some people feel as if I am promoting an elite communication style that does not take into account the “common man.” Some believe that what I have said promotes a form of accuracy that leaves little room for understanding.

Nothing I have said mitigates against understanding. In fact, the whole post is just the opposite. To teach people in any situation assumes the audience has some degree of ignorance of the subject. Whether it is ignorance in concepts or ignorance in words, the case is the same. The point is that if the word usage is limited, the comprehension of the concepts will be limited accordingly. Therefore, we use words to increase understanding. We assess where our audience is so that we can determine the degree to which we define ourselves.

Look to Paul as an example. He used words and concepts that were very foreign to most people, often bridging them with concepts that were already understood. In fact, when a word did not exist to fit his concept, he would make up a word in order to better communicate and articulate this concept to his audience! Now those are words that NO ONE knew!!! Yet Paul valued the use of words precisely because he valued the concepts he communicated.

This process is a gradual progression. I don’t suggest using too many words that people don’t understand in each lesson. In fact, one should limit themselves quite a bit. This is a standard pedegogical (teaching method) approach to every discipline. Just think if the fields of medicine, law, or agriculture were limited in such a way. There would be so low a bar set that all of these industries would be simplistic and/or corrupted. No advancement could be made.

Now you might argue that no one teaches in this fields except to those who are going to become professionals of the same. This is true, but aren’t all Christians called to be such in our understanding and seeking of God? Of course we are not with agriculture! But our call is to be a “kingdom of priests”!

Let us value truth enough so as not to set the bar so low under the assumption of apathy or ignorance. What I have found in my ten years of teaching theology to lay-people is that they are neither apathetic nor ignorant. To assume otherwise is not in line with the way things really are and, more importantly, demeans the imago dei which is present in every “common man.” Have more confidence in your audience.