Church is a living organism, church planter says

Successful church planters must view the church as a living organism rather than an inanimate institution, church planter Neil Cole said at a church planting conference Nov. 20 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In the Bible, “almost every metaphor, description or parable of the Kingdom or the church has a natural element to it. ... The church is described as a mustard seed, a sower and soils, a body, a bride, branches, a flock and a family,” said Cole, who serves as executive director of Church Multiplication Associates, a California-based church planting organization.

When church planters understand the church as a living organism, he said, they will be able to plant churches that honor God and result in changed lives.

Cole highlighted four important implications of the church’s status as a living organism.

First, church planters must focus on planting the seed of the Gospel rather than being consumed with logistical details.

Successful church planters are like farmers who spend most of their time working in the fields, Cole said, while unsuccessful church planters are often analogous to farmers who focus on repairing their barns to the neglect of harvesting crops.

“If you’re going to start a church, where should you start?” he asked. “In the soils, in the dirt. Can you imagine a farmer who builds a nice barn and stands in the doorway and says, ‘All right crops, come on in?’ What kind of crop would he have? ... Would he have a bigger crop? If we’re really talking about expanding the Kingdom, we have to get out there and plant seeds in soil, and that’s where it all starts. You have to get your hands dirty.”

Second, church planters must understand that God grows His Kingdom through supernatural and natural means rather than artificial and manufactured means.

Churches that see their work as selling a product to non-Christians misunderstand the biblical picture of the church, Cole said. Rather, the work of churches is to authentically introduce people to Jesus Christ.

“Madison Avenue may work for selling tennis shoes, but I don’t think it’s really the way the Lord intended for His Kingdom to grow. It needs to be more natural,” he said.

Third, like all living things, the church is meant to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

To be fruitful and multiply “was the commandment Jesus gave in the beginning to all the living creatures, to man and woman,” Cole said. “He also gave the same command to the church: Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth. So I think He sees the church as one of His living creations.”

Thinking of the church as a multiplying organism could shift the mentality of many pastors, he said.

“In God’s eyes, the church is meant to be seen as a living thing. We’ve been training pastors in recent years to think like CEO’s, and we need to get them to think more like farmers because it’s really more organic than it is institutional,” Cole said.

Fourth, church planters must understand that the church is a holy people, not a holy place.

“God doesn’t live in buildings. There is no building that can house God. So we need to divorce ourselves a little bit more from the idea that this is the house of God, this building,” he said.

“The new covenant has the human heart as God’s dwelling place. God’s people are now the temple of God. ... Jesus’ death tore the vale between man and God, removing the separation so that all people have access to God. I think that’s important.”

Because the body of Christ is a group of people rather than a specific location, churches should focus more energy on taking the Gospel to unbelievers and less energy on drawing unbelievers to the church building, Cole said.

“[Jesus] shed His blood and died on the cross, rose from the dead so that the Kingdom of God could be decentralized and spread all over the planet. And we’re trying to get everybody to come to us when He bled so we could go to them, so we could take the church to where people are,” he said.

A proper understanding of the church, Cole said, will enable church planters to eliminate unbiblical practices in their congregations and grow churches that powerfully impact the world.

“Most of the time in church planting, we cast vision for this church rather than bringing people to know who Jesus is. It’s often a problem. We think that if we play the right music, we have the right preaching, we’ll impress them so much they’ll say, ‘I want to be a Christian too.’ And our preaching and our buildings and our programming, they don’t compete with what the world can offer. And so we don’t really impress them that much.

“But what we can do is bring something that is very impressive to the lost: a changed life. If we just show them a life that’s changed by the power of the Gospel, that’s a seller. That’s something powerful.”

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Ministry is equal parts glory and grief, Mohler tells fall graduates

There is both glory and grief in the Christian ministry, Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Friday at the school’s fall graduation ceremony.

Preaching from Luke 2:22-35 at the seminary’s 192nd commencement, Mohler said there is much glory in the ministry when the Gospel is preached, sinners are saved, and believers are nourished in the faith. And the glory does not belong to the minister, but to God.

“This isn’t about us, it is about God,” Mohler told the graduating class of 131 students.

“Whatever is in us that commends us has come from God. Whatever calling and gift in us is God’s gift and our stewardship. Whatever passion is in our hearts is a God-given passion...Ministers of the Gospel are not the volunteer corps, but the called. The ministry is not a profession, it is so much more than that.”

Above all else, the ministry is to be centered upon the full-orbed message of salvation through Christ alone, Mohler said. A temptation that is particularly alluring during Christmas is to proclaim the infant Jesus of the cradle without preaching the Christ of the cross, he said. It is one ministers must resist.

“The Gospel is at the center of the Christian ministry and that means that most fundamentally our task is an evangelistic ministry,” he said.

“We understand there is more than that, but there is never less than that...The Gospel is not merely the message of how we may be saved, but it is the comprehensive truth of how God brings glory to Himself in the salvation of sinners. It reveals the very character of God.”

While seeing God work in human hearts through His Gospel is glorious, Mohler warned graduates that the ministry is often fraught with grief. Mohler reminded them that many will reject the message of salvation in Christ alone and in so doing will bring eternal ruin upon themselves.

Mohler pointed out that Simeon, in Luke 2, balanced his recognition that salvation had come to Israel and the nations in the birth of the Messiah with the sobering truth that Christ is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to those who reject Him. All authentic Gospel ministers will face this difficult dual reality, he said.

“If there is glory in seeing obedience to the Word of God, there is grief in seeing obstinate disobedience to God’s Word,” he said. “There is grief in seeing work begun that does not well end, in seeing hard-heartedness rather than receptivity to the Gospel, in seeing hostility to the precious things of God rather than love and adoration and worship.

“There is grief in seeing even those who claim to be God’s people take God’s truth as such a triviality [and] in seeing those who claim to be God’s people who live like pagans. There is also grief in knowing that so long as we walk this rocky soil, our feet will sometimes stumble. There is grief in knowing that not one of us will go through our ministry without pain, without sorrow, without disappointment.”

Though there is grief, God is ultimately glorified in it, Mohler pointed out, because what appears to be grievous to the human mind still resounds to the glory of God. Mohler said ministers must always take courage in the truth of God’s sovereignty over circumstances and outcomes that appear to be negative. All of them fall within God’s redemptive plan, he said.

“[There is glory in] knowing that these things happen to us...not by some pattern of some cosmic accident, but by the plan of God,” he said. “All things work together of the good of those who are in Christ Jesus...Preachers and teachers of God’s word must keep that ever in mind.

“When you preach, you will preach in the name of the One was from the very beginning for the rise and the fall of many in Israel. You will also preach knowing that that name will be for the rise and fall of many in your ministry.

“Many lives will be healed through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and you will have the opportunity to see that. But as you preach the Word of God and as you tell the Gospel, [you must] know that it will also break some. They will dash themselves in their disobedience upon the Rock that is the stone of stumbling. You cannot prevent that.”

Amid both glory and grief, Mohler said ministers must view their calling in light of God’s eternal glory and not in light of their own standing before man.

“For you must not anticipate the resume you will build, nor the record you will leave behind, but the fulfillment of all things to God’s glory by His sovereign will according to His plan in His own name,” Mohler said. “We share together the glad task of the call that has been addressed and given to us and there is glory in that.”

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SBC leaders agree Akin is great choice for Southeastern

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)--The sentiment among Southern Baptist Convention leaders is clear: Daniel L. Akin would be an excellent choice as the sixth president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The final decision won’t be determined until the seminary’s board of trustees votes on him during a special session on Jan. 15 on the seminary’s Wake Forest, N.C., campus. But the unanimous recommendation of Akin by Southeastern’s presidential search committee after a nearly six-month search speaks volumes about the man.

“In choosing Danny Akin as the next president of Southeastern, the seminary’s trustees have made a choice that will pay huge spiritual dividends in God’s Kingdom for years to come,” said Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. “Danny is brilliant, personable, and has a heart for equipping God-called students in their preparation for a lifetime of serving our Lord Jesus Christ. He is a genuine Christian who loves people and takes time to invest his life in theirs. He will be an encouragement to each and every student who spends time on the campus and in the classroom.”

Akin, 46, is currently vice president for academic administration/dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He has connections to Southeastern, as he was professor of theology and dean of students during his time at Southeastern from 1992-96.

According to SBC President Jack Graham, that prior experience at Southeastern will be a major plus in Akin’s transition.

“With Danny Akin’s prior experience at Southeastern, that makes the learning curve less for him,” Graham said. “He understands the role of the seminary. He has a great love of students who prepare for life in the ministry. He’s a very strong leader. He’s one of the very well-known preachers and teachers. He can fill any pulpit in America. He brings grace to the position. He is a great author.

“He brings Southeastern visibility and a capability that will move the seminary forward to advance the Kingdom of God. It’s a great marriage,” said Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church.

Southeastern President Paige Patterson, who was also the president at Criswell before coming to Southeastern in 1992, brought Akin to Southeastern from Criswell College. The two have been close friends and Patterson said Akin has been like a son to him.

“Every time I hear him preach, I marvel at the way he makes a text come to life, and I always thank God that his life touched my own and blessed me,” said Patterson, now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. “As he picks up my mantle, I rejoice that the mantle left by me will not dignify Dr. Akin, but Dr. Akin will dignify the mantle.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., described Akin as “one of the most gifted, most committed, most congenial and most effective leaders serving the church today.” Mohler said that Southern’s loss will be Southeastern’s gain.

“Southeastern Seminary has chosen a remarkable man -- theologian, scholar, leader and teacher -- as its next president,” Mohler said. “He is a model of the Christian scholar in devoted service to the church. He is a stalwart Southern Baptist with the world in his heart and the Gospel as his passion. He is a man of sterling character and unquestioned conviction.

“We will miss him greatly, even as we send him on to our sister seminary with pride and with prayer.”

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Charles S. Kelley Jr., chairman of the SBC’s Council of Seminary Presidents, said Akin has the ability to take Southeastern to the next level.

“Dr. Danny Akin has a brilliant mind, a pastor’s heart and the zeal of an evangelist,” Kelley said. “Add to that wide experience in teaching and administration at both the college and seminary levels, and you have an ideal candidate for the Southeastern presidency. He will keep the seminary and college anchored in the Bible, focused on the church and committed to getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

Akin and his wife, Charlotte, have been married for 25 years. They have four children: twins Daniel and Jonathan, 22; Paul, 20; and Timothy, 18. Mohler said Southeastern will be getting a family people can look up to.

“Charlotte Akin is a model Christian wife and mother, a woman of great charm and Christian spirit,” Mohler said. “Their four sons honor both God and their parents, and are a tribute to the Christian home in which they were raised.”

Patterson added, “Dr. Akin is that rare mixture of exemplary husband and father, omnivorous book-devouring theologian, compelling preacher and genuine man of God that is seldom encountered in a single individual. His prowess as student recruiter is almost legendary. However, for a gentle heart and sweet spirit he can be tough when he needs to be. Charlotte will keep him encouraged and pray him to success.”

Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined the others in commending the SEBTS search committee’s selection.

“Dr. Akin’s devotion to his Savior, God’s Word and to Southern Baptists, is unshakable and unquestioned. As one of his former professors [at Criswell College], I can attest personally to his devotion, his dedication and his scholarship.

“I can think of no one who is better prepared and better suited to take the helm of Southeastern Seminary and to build on the tremendous foundation laid by our mutual friend and colleague, Dr. Paige Patterson,” Land continued.

“As a Southern Baptist and as the father of two Southeastern students and the father-in-law of a third, I rejoice in God’s providential watchcare in providing Dr. Akin as a leader and as a model pulpiteer, and man of God for Southeastern Seminary students, now and in the foreseeable future,” Land said.

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Akin is committee’s nominee as Southeastern’s sixth president

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)--The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s presidential search committee will recommend to the board of trustees the election of Daniel L. Akin as the seminary’s sixth president.

The board will meet in special session on Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. at the school’s Wake Forest, N.C., campus to vote on Akin.

“Dr. Akin is a man with great vision, keen insight and spiritual understanding,” said Timothy D. Lewis, chairman of the search committee as well as the head of Southeastern’s board of trustees. “His enthusiasm is contagious and genuine. We do not feel any other man in Southern Baptist life could better follow [former President] Dr. [Paige] Patterson than Dr. Daniel Akin.”

Akin, 46, is currently the vice president for academic administration/dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He has connections to Southeastern, as he was professor of theology, dean of students and vice president for student services at Southeastern from 1992-96.

Akin holds a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Arlington and his Bachelor of Arts degree from Criswell College in Dallas.

Akin has pastored churches in Florida, Alabama and Virginia and has ministered in Australia, Thailand and to the Papago Indians. He was New Testament editor of The Holy Bible Baptist Study Edition by Thomas Nelson, and author of the volume on the Epistles of John for the New American Commentary series.

In 1996, Christianity Today named Akin as one of 50 emerging Christian leaders under the age of 40. He is a member of several professional organizations, including the Southern Baptist Historical Society, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Evangelical Theological Society.

Some of his more recent works include “God on Sex: The Creator’s Ideas About Love, Intimacy, and Marriage”; Songs of Songs (Holman Old Testament Commentary, Vol. 14); and 1,2,3 John (New American Commentary, Vol. 38 ).

Bart Neal, Southeastern’s interim president, said Akin would be an excellent choice as president.

“I am profoundly happy to know that under the leadership of the Lord our presidential search committee is recommending Dr. Danny Akin to our full board of trustees as the next president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary,” Neal said. “Dr. Akin’s gifts and experience make him uniquely qualified to serve as our president. Not only is he an inspirational and visionary leader, he is an outstanding theologian, educator and preacher.

“Mrs. Neal and I had the privilege of serving with Dr. and Mrs. Akin when we came to Southeastern in 1993, prior to their going to Southern Seminary. It will be a joy for us to have the opportunity to serve with them again as our new president and first lady.”

Akin and his wife, Charlotte, have been married for 25 years. They have four children: twins Daniel and Jonathan, 22; Paul, 20; and Timothy, 18.

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Carl F.H. Henry, known as the ‘dean’ of evangelical theologians, dies at 90

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Carl F.H. Henry, a staunch defender of biblical authority, a giant evangelical theologian of the 20th century and the founding editor of Christianity Today, died Dec. 7. He was 90.

Known as the dean of evangelical theologians by some, Henry helped shape evangelical thought during the middle of the 20th century by arguing that fundamentalism and its belief in separation from culture was ineffective. Evangelicals, he asserted, must engage the culture.

In the later half of the century Henry defended the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, asserting that heresy is rooted in an improper understanding of God’s revelation. His six-volume “God, Revelation and Authority,” released from 1976-82, served as a monumental guide to the centrality of the doctrine of revelation.

Henry, a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., died in his sleep in Watertown, Wis.

“The mission of the church is to embrace both evangelism and cultural impact,” he said in a 2001 interview with Southern Seminary Magazine. “To neglect either is catastrophic. This is the lesson of both Protestant liberalism and fundamentalism.”

David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said Henry’s death leaves “a huge void” in American Christianity.

“No Christian thinker in this country has done more to advance orthodox theology and full-orbed Christian worldview thinking than Carl F.H. Henry,” Dockery said. “Evangelicals across this country and the entire world stand in debt to Dr. Henry for his years of service and leadership across the evangelical world.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said Henry’s death presents a challenge to the next generation of evangelicals.

“The torch has now been passed to a new generation,” Mohler wrote on his Crosswalk.com weblog. “The real question is now this: Will the present generation of evangelicals run the race -- or run from the challenge?”

Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, noted Henry’s influence in the struggle over biblical authority.

“Dr. Henry’s influence as a Christian thinker and gentleman not only had a most profound impact upon the shape of evangelicalism, many view him as the champion in the battle for the Bible,” Chapman said. “His exemplary scholarship, tenacious devotion and gracious spirit have left an indelible impression upon the Christian community.”

Born Jan. 22, 1913, to immigrant parents in New York City, Henry grew up under a Roman Catholic mother and a Lutheran father. But in 1933 -- “by the grace” of God he would write later -- he was saved at the age of 20.

“That very day, had the risen Redeemer commanded, I would have gone to China or to any of the uttermost parts,” he wrote in 1958.

Instead, Henry felt a calling to attend Wheaton College, where he became friends with classmates Billy Graham and Harold Lindsell (author of “The Battle for the Bible”). Henry earned bachelor and master of arts degrees at Wheaton and bachelor of divinity and doctor of theology degrees from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill. He later received a Ph.D. at Boston University.

He met his wife, Helga Bender, at Wheaton. They were married in 1940 and later had two children.

Henry went into teaching, serving first at Northern Seminary and later at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. While at Northern Seminary, Henry wrote “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism” in which he critiqued the fundamentalism of the day and argued that evangelicalism must engage the culture intellectually.

In 1956, Henry became the first editor of Christianity Today, which was the brainchild of Graham and was started as an evangelical alternative to the more liberal Christian Century.

Henry left Christianity Today in 1968 and went to Cambridge, England, to study, but later returned to the United States to teach at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

Henry considered himself a Baptist for the last 50-plus years of his life. In 1958, he wrote an article titled, “Twenty Years a Baptist” -- an article that was later included in the 2001 book, “Why I Am A Baptist.”

Henry spoke at the 1987 SBC Pastors’ Conference and in 1994 was given the title by Southern Seminary of senior research professor of Christian theology. In 1988 he gave the address at Richard Land’s installation as head of the Christian Life Commission (now ERLC) and in 1993 he spoke at Southern Seminary during events surrounding Mohler’s inauguration. He last visited Southern Seminary in 1999.

During the 2001 interview with Southern Seminary Magazine, Henry praised the movement by Southern Baptists to return to their orthodox biblical roots.

“The collapse of modernism and the reassertion of a commitment to biblical authority within the denomination are significant,” he said. “It means that God has provided a new opportunity for evangelical renewal within the denomination and beyond.”

Henry lamented the drift toward modernism and liberalism within many Baptist institutions.

“We need more than two hands to count up the number of Baptist institutions that have gone down the drain doctrinally,” he said at Southern Seminary in 1993. “There are gratifying signs, however, of a recovery of academic heritage. ... If a comprehensive Christian alternative to the prevalent secular outlook is to arise, it will come from Christian academia. The foes of Christian education can hardly be expected to respond critically to their own theories.”

Throughout his life and to the end, Henry stressed the importance of intellectual engagement. Two years before his death he said he was concerned about the future of evangelical scholarship.

“I am very worried about the loss of the priority of the mind among evangelicals,” he said in 2001. “This is a matter of great importance in the struggle for evangelical fidelity. It must not be forgotten.”

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Criswell College elects Jerry Johnson as president

DALLAS (BP)--The board of trustees of the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies (CCBS) unanimously elected Jerry A. Johnson, 39, of Louisville, Ky., as the sixth president and chief executive officer of CCBS, which includes Criswell College and Criswell Communications, during its meeting Dec. 5.

Johnson, a native of Malakoff, Texas, and a 1986 Criswell graduate, will likely assume his duties Feb. 1, Mike Deahl, search committee chairman, told the board.

Johnson comes to Criswell College from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a doctor of philosophy in Christian ethics and most recently served as dean of the seminary’s Boyce College and a member of the seminary’s executive cabinet.

Johnson succeeds C. Richard Wells, who resigned in May to become pastor of South Canyon Baptist Church in Rapid City, S.D. Since then, Lamar Cooper, executive vice president and provost, has served as acting president of the four-year college begun in 1971 by First Baptist Church of Dallas and named in honor of the late W.A. Criswell, the church’s longtime pastor.

“He [Johnson] has taught in academic settings, and he has administrative experience as a dean, and he has served extensively as a pastor,” board chairman Royce Laycock said. “He brings a pastor’s heart to this position in addition to all the other strengths we need.”

In addressing the board before his election, Johnson said he sensed a strong calling to Criswell though, initially, he resisted because he and his family were happy in Louisville. He explained how as a young Southern Baptist college student he became disillusioned with Christian education and considered leaving the Southern Baptist Convention, only to discover Criswell College after coming to Dallas to hear Criswell preach.

Johnson, referred to in the meeting by a trustee as a “[spiritual] grandson of Dr. Criswell,” said he would work to maintain the school’s foundational principles developed by Criswell himself, which included a commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture; the centrality of expositional preaching, and the priority of evangelism.

Johnson also said he would work to increase emphasis on student recruitment, financial development and relationships inside and outside the institution.

Quoting B.B. Warfield, Johnson told the board, “’If the call to preach is the highest calling, then there is no greater task than to prepare men to do it.’

“That is why I am excited about this opportunity,” he said.

Jim Richards, a Criswell trustee and executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said, “With tremendous rejoicing and celebration I welcome Dr. Jerry Johnson back to Texas and The Criswell College. He brings scholarship, a passion for souls and a Christ-like spirit to the office of president. I believe and pray that The Criswell College’s best days are ahead. It is my delight to have Jerry as a co-laborer in Texas. I have counted him among my dearest friends for a number of years. It is now a special treat to be able to work more closely with him.

“The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has a strong advocate in Dr. Johnson. We share the same convictions. We desire to reach people for Christ. We are a part of the greater Southern Baptist Convention family. Jerry Johnson will make a tremendous impact in the years to come.”

Richards added, “Rhonda is a lovely first lady for the college. The children will bring excitement to the campus. It is a new generation, a new day and a new opportunity for The Criswell College and Texas.”

Mac Brunson, pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas and Criswell College’s chancellor, said, “I think it was very clear to all of us on the day that we interviewed Dr. Johnson that there was a unanimity in the room that we felt like that this was the man, clearly, that God had brought to us.

“We’ve been through a long process ... yet the Lord guided us through it all to Jerry, and I‘m excited about his being here, I really am,” Brunson said.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, commented, “I congratulate Jerry Johnson upon his election as president of The Criswell College. Jerry Johnson is a man of rare gifts and solid conviction. He combines first-rate scholarship with evangelistic passion and stellar leadership ability. The Criswell College has chosen a young man with great gifts as its next president. He is a personal friend and a cherished colleague. We will surely miss him as dean of Boyce College, but we expect great things out of his service at the helm of his alma mater.”

For nine years Johnson served Southern Seminary as a trustee -- two as board chairman -- and later served the school in administration and teaching.

In addition to serving as a Southern Seminary trustee, Johnson also served on the executive board of the Denver Association of Southern Baptist Churches, the Colorado Baptist General Convention and on the Credentials Committee and Committee on Order of Business of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Johnson’s first ministry assignment was as pastor of Ireland Baptist Church in Ireland, Texas, from 1982-83. He has served as a youth pastor, interim pastor and pastor at numerous churches. He earned a master of divinity degree in 1998 from Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary; he served churches in Colorado for 12 years after earning a bachelor of arts degree in biblical studies at Criswell in 1986. Johnson is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, Evangelical Philosophical Society and the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

During his doctoral work at Southern Seminary, Johnson completed tutorials at Oxford University from 1999-2002, and he was a Garrett Research Fellow from 2000-02 and a Bodleian Library Reader at Oxford, 1999-2003.

Criswell College is an affiliate institution of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. It has 17 full-time faculty and numerous part-time and adjunct professors at its campus east of downtown Dallas, which until 1989 was the campus of Gaston Avenue Baptist Church. The student body includes more than 400 students from 30-plus states and 30 countries. The college grants undergraduate through master-level degrees.

The Criswell Center for Biblical Studies also includes Criswell Communications, which includes several radio stations, including its flagship Dallas station, KCBI-FM.

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Seminarian overcomes homelessness en route to salvation

This morning Jennifer Lyell drove to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in her Hyundai Accent.

But five years ago she was living in the backseat of that same car, and seminary was the last place she expected to drive it.

Today Lyell is preparing for a career in Christian ministry. But her path to ministry, which included homelessness, desperation and conversion at a Billy Graham crusade, is far different from most seminarians.

By age 19, Lyell had risen to an upper management position in a major theater company. She soon discovered that success did not necessarily lead to contentment.

“I was still very young. I had a lot of power. I was making good money,” she said. “And yet I was still pretty miserable. And that pretty much crashed my entire worldview because those were the things that I thought led to happiness. So recognizing that they didn’t ... I was just kind of confused and couldn’t see the point.”

Frustrated with life, Lyell quit her job. Without any money for housing, a 20-year-old Lyell was forced to live in her car.

“I lived in my car for about six months, and during that time it was kind of like everything that I had always put around me, or had managed to control, in order to convince myself that I had ultimate control had fallen away. So I recognized that I didn’t [have control], and that left me really wondering who did and whose responsibility that control was,” she said.

Sleeping in summer heat of more than 100 degrees and bathing in gas station restrooms, Lyell grew bitter and blamed God for her circumstances.

“I was sleeping in the car one night, woke up, turned on the radio and heard, ‘It’s 2:12 A.M. and 105 degrees outside,’” Lyell said. “And I can remember laying back down in my seat and speaking to God and saying, ‘I don’t know what You’re doing up there,’ basically just cursing God and shaking my fist in His face and saying, ‘You’ve done this to me,’ when in reality I had done it to myself.”

After six months of living in her car, Lyell saved enough money to rent an apartment, but she remained bitter at God.

That’s when things began to change. Two weeks after moving into her new apartment Lyell heard that Billy Graham was preaching a crusade in St. Louis, near her hometown of Marion, Ill. She decided to attend the crusade but had no intention of committing her life to Christ.

When Graham finished preaching one night, the crowed began to sing the worship chorus, which was Rich Mullins’ song, “Awesome God.”

“I wasn’t feeling convicted at all at that point,” Lyell remembered. “They started singing ‘Awesome God,’ and I hadn’t heard it before and I didn’t know the words ... so I was struggling to figure out all the words. I could figure out, ‘from heaven above, with wisdom, power and love,’ because it rhymed. But I couldn’t get the verb, ‘reigns.’”

Lyell listened to the song several times before she finally discerned what the crowd was saying.

“I know the nanosecond I was saved because when I heard the word, ‘reigns,’ ... it hit me. I remember having a visual of myself laying in my car physically shaking my fist at God and just feeling like I was turned inside out, feeling unbelievably overwhelming remorse that I had blamed this awesome God for the choices I had made in rebellion against Him,” she said.

At that moment, Lyell remembers committing her life to Christ and promising to obey Him.

“It’s like all of the Bible and all of the theology that I had sat and heard my whole life had never sunk in,” Lyell said. “But in that moment, all of it came together because in that moment I recognized that even though I had gone forward in church four years before and was dunked in water ... I wasn’t a Christian.”

The Sunday following her commitment to Christ, Lyell returned to the church she had attended as a child and made a public profession of faith. Within weeks she was baptized and began to grow in her relationship with God.

“Now everything about my life is different,” she said. “... I don’t know an aspect of my life that isn’t different. That’s just the truth.”

As Lyell reflected on her salvation experience, she developed a burden to share the good news of Christ with others and even began to participate in world missions.

“I started reading everything on missions that I could. It was such an odd thing to me that I had grown up in this country where I had sat in church from when I was six to when I was 16 and heard someone preach every single Sunday. ... [I] recognize all the intricacies that God used [in my life] and recognize that there are a lot of places in the world where those things don’t exist for Him to use,” she said.

So Lyell began to take action based on her passion for world missions. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University, she enrolled at Southern Seminary to prepare for a career in ministry. She is schedule to graduate with her master of divinity in May 2005.

In the immediate future, she plans either to enter the mission field or earn a Ph.D.

Lyell said she thanks God daily for the miracle he worked in her life, but she warns other Christians not to glorify sensational testimonies. Consistent faithfulness is far more desirable, she said.

“I’ve experienced things that a lot of people haven’t experienced,” Lyell said. “But I want to recognize that those experiences were the result of sin. And I don’t want those to be glorified because that’s certainly not the way it’s supposed to be.

“And I certainly hope that if I were to get married and have children that my children would not come to faith in Christ in the same way that I did. And I think as a church, sometimes we have a tendency to focus on sensational stories and neglect the consistent faithfulness.”

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Efforts to unite Christians and Muslims threaten the Gospel, panelists say

Should Christians view Muslims as monotheistic allies in the culture wars?

Not according to panelists at a Nov. 14 symposium sponsored by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.

The panelists argued that Allah and the God of Christianity are fundamentally different and that efforts to unite Islam and Christianity tend to compromise the Gospel.

The symposium featured seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr.; Russell D. Moore, assistant professor of Christian theology and executive director of the Henry Institute; and Ergun Caner, professor of theology and history at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, was scheduled to speak at the symposium but was unable to attend due to a family emergency.

More than 500 people listened as panelists responded to Kreeft’s book, “Ecumenical Jihad.”

According to Kreeft, Christians and Muslims hold many beliefs in common as monotheists and must unite in the fight against secularism. Fighting between the two religions, Kreeft argues, unnecessarily detracts from positive work that could be accomplished.

Caner, who was a Muslim for 20 years before committing his life to Christ, said, however, that Kreeft’s view ignores irreconcilable differences between Islam and Christianity.

“To say that our ... monotheistic religions worship the same God, that as sons of Abraham we can unite on a common cause of this said God against the threat of humanism, in my mind ignores the central tents of each system and insults the adherents of each system,” Caner said.

Though Muslims believe that Allah is the sovereign creator, they deny other portions of the Christian doctrine of God such as the Trinity and the deity of Christ, Caner said.

“It is not the same God,” he said. “The Koran is explicit not to say Trinity ... We’re not talking about the same God.”

In fact, Islamic eschatology teaches that one day Jesus will return to “break all the crosses” and “kill and send to hell every Jew and Christian who did not accept Allah,” Caner said.

“As much as I would love for there to be ... unity, you cannot unite with those who seek your death for the sole reason of your conversion,” he said.

Mohler, in his comments, said that Kreeft’s thesis stems from a false notion that all monotheists share a common worldview.

Prior to Vatican II, a Roman Catholic council in the 1960s, it was commonly acknowledged that Christianity and Islam hold contradictory theologies, Mohler said. After Vatican II, it became popular to lump all monotheistic religions into one category.

“Vatican II went so far as officially to embrace all monotheists as sons of Abraham and included in God’s economy of salvation,” he said. “This means Christians and Jews and Muslims.”

Christianity and Islam are actually very different, Mohler said. While Christianity insists on the full deity of Christ, Islam denies that God could ever have a son.

“The issue ... is the doctrine of the Trinity, in particular the doctrine of Christ,” he said. “We must face the fundamental question of how one knows the one true and living God. The Scripture is abundantly clear that God is known through Jesus Christ the Son.”

Islam, in contrast, insists that “Allah is one, and he has no son,” Mohler said. “The only ground of our Christian identity is ... the confession the Jesus Christ is Lord. Our co-belligerence in terms of the great battles of the age is fundamentally limited to those who believe and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Because God reveals moral standards through human conscience, Christians and Muslims will agree on some cultural issues, Mohler noted. But the two religions will never unite fully because Muslims reject God’s authoritative revelation—the Bible.

“When we come to revelation, it’s not just any book,” he said. “It is the holy Scriptures. It is explicitly not the Koran, which is explicitly a different worldview. Co-belligerence ad hoc from time to time on limited issues we understand by common grace. A common platform to address the culture war? I think not. The seductive nature of that idea makes it all the more dangerous.”

Moore said that Muslims misunderstand the fatherhood of God.

“God the Father does not simply mean that God is caring,” Moore said. “God the Father, in Scripture, is a specific truth claim that God is the Father of Jesus Christ. We cannot start with some generic concept of God and then move to a fuller revelation in Jesus Christ. God reveals Himself as Father, Son, Holy Spirit and as the God and Father of Jesus Christ.”

Though some thinkers minimize the distinctions between Islam and Christianity, Scripture teaches that only followers of Christ will inherit eternal life, Moore said.

“The issues here are about more than foreign policy although foreign policy is at stake,” he said. “The issue is about more than the culture wars although the culture wars are at stake. The issue is billions and billions of people for whom Christ died, who right now are chanting, ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.’”

More concluded, “I fear for us in evangelical Christianity that there are so many of us who want peace with Islam, and by peace what we mean is that they would stop killing us so that we can continue to consume our stuff. That is not what peace is as defined by the New Testament. Peace is John 3:16. ... For millions and millions of Muslims, peace—being defined as being ignored by the Gospel—is hell. If we love Muslims as we love ourselves, we will take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

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Fifteen with Southern Seminary ties among IMB appointees

Nearly one-fourth of the 67 missionaries appointed to service in foreign nations on Nov. 11 by the International Mission Board have ties to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Each missionary briefly told the story of their divine call to the mission field during the IMB’s commissioning service held in Lexington, Ky.

Twyla Fagan, director of Great Commission Ministries at Southern, said the school is encouraged to see its students take their education and apply it in proclaiming the Gospel to the nations.

“We are pleased that these students are going to be representing God first of all and also Southern Seminary across the world,” she said.

Following are excerpts from the testimonies of some of the 15 new missionaries who are current or former students at Southern Seminary:

* For Bryan and Deana Wolf, it was the mouth of a babe that foretold their surrendering to Gospel missions. The Wolf’s daughter, at age four at the time, told her parents they would become missionaries to South America. The couple was appointed to serve on that continent. “In November 2002, God brought me to the realization that He had made me for such a time as this,” Bryan Wolf said. “Our agricultural and my nutritional background have equipped us to serve Christ in the rural villages of the Andes Mountains in Chile.” Bryan is currently studying missions at Southern.

* Holly Henson began to develop an unquenchable desire for the mission field some years ago as a youth at Girls in Action camp. “Missions became stronger in my life through short-term missions,” Henson said. “After spending three years in east Europe in an oppressive and dark country, I am called to tell the people of the light of Jesus for a lifetime.” Henson will serve in central and western Europe. Henson prepared for IMB service last year at Southern.

* Stan and Wendy Meador have served on various mission fields and will now plant churches in southern Brazil. “For me it (missions work) began on the pristine beaches of Belize,” Stan Meador said. “[Then moved to] church construction in Brazil and then to the persecuted church in Bulgaria. Now we go to plant churches...in southern Brazil.” Stan received an M.Div. from Southern in 2000 and Wendy worked toward a master of missiology degree.

* Garry and Lori Jones spoke of godly influences, of laying down their resistance and surrendering to God’s call. “ I was influenced by my grandmother’s example [and] I gave my life to Christ as a child,” Lori Jones said. “I am very thankful that although she has gone on to be with the Lord, God, in His perfect plan, saw fit for me to be appointed as a missionary on her birthday.” Garry is pursing a master of divinity in Christian education at Southern.

Three other couples with ties to Southern Seminary will serve in regions that are sensitive and have restricted access. Their names could not be published for security purposes.

The service was held at Rupp Arena, the home of the University of Kentucky (UK) basketball team, a perennial national power. Following a welcome by UK basketball coach Tubby Smith, IMB President Jerry Rankin glanced about Rupp Arena at the numerous championship banners hanging from its rafters and said the missionary appointees are the “champions” among Southern Baptists.

“As I look at these championship banners and how these crowds have gathered here to cheer these championship basketball teams, the men and women seated before you tonight are the champions of Southern Baptists,” Rankin said.

“They are the ones who have been willing to focus on that purpose in dedication and commitment to whatever it takes to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world. These are your missionaries.”

Carl Stam, associate professor of church music and worship, led the mass choir and orchestra.

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Open theism vote won’t disrupt theological society, most say

ATLANTA (BP)--One night after the membership voted against the ouster of open theists Clark Pinnock and John Sanders for holding aberrant views on the inerrancy of Scripture, a business-as-usual quiet returned to the 55th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

But does the peace signal calm waters in the coming days for ETS?

Only 32.9 percent of the membership voted Tuesday night to expel Pinnock while 62.7 percent cast ballots in favor of the ouster of Sanders. Both were charged with violating the article on the inerrancy of Scripture in ETS’s confessional statement. Members are required to sign a two-sentence statement of faith that affirms two doctrines -- the inerrancy of Scripture and the Trinity. A two-thirds vote was needed for expulsion, with the recommendation for Sanders’ ejection failing by a mere 27 votes.

In wake of the vote, society leaders past and present face the future with mixed emotions. Bruce Ware, a theology professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, hopes Sanders’ close encounter with expulsion will serve as a warning to members that the society has doctrinal boundaries and takes them seriously.

Ware assisted the nine-member ETS executive committee in the investigation of Pinnock and Sanders. Pinnock teaches at McMaster Divinity College in Canada, Sanders at Huntingdom College in Indiana. Both hold to “open theism” -- a view that says God does not know the future exhaustively, which was not at issue in the vote. The committee unanimously recommended that Pinnock not be expelled, but voted 7-2 to revoke Sanders’ membership.

“I’m hopeful that, even though John Sanders was not voted out, I thought and continue to think it should have been done,” Ware said. “It was a high enough vote that it sends a shot across the bow that the society does have limits. I think it will have the effect of anchoring the society a bit from continued freefall or continued unthwarted movement to the left, which might have been the case otherwise.”

Norman Geisler, who served as ETS president in 1998, saw the failure to oust Pinnock and Sanders as a sign of foreboding and predicted a split within the society. Geisler was conspicuously absent from Wednesday night’s presidential address where he was to receive a plaque honoring him for his ETS service. ETS leaders said Geisler of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Chartlotte, N.C., left the meeting Wednesday morning.

“Ultimately, there will be two or three societies instead of one,” Geisler said shortly after Tuesday’s vote. “Because when over 60 percent of the people lose -- 60 percent is a significant majority -- and the 30-some percent has taken over and has [said,] ‘We don’t care what the [ETS] founders said [about inerrancy],’ that’s a really tragic day. ... It puts [ETS’ future] in jeopardy eventually unless this problem is rectified, which I don’t see it being easily rectified. I think there’s going to be two or three societies -- one or two that will emerge from this society.”

However, outgoing ETS President David Howard said the future of the ETS seems to be on sound footing.

“I’m really encouraged for the future of ETS,” Howard said. “I was fearful that this would result in a great split one way or the other, with a large group leaving no matter which way the vote went. ... We may lose a handful of members on one edge or the other, but I don’t fear that the society will split. I am very excited about the future of the society. I think it is vibrant and I think the scholarly part of it is terrific.”

One issue the society may have to examine is the depth of its doctrinal statement. Many ETS members opposed the expulsion of Pinnock and Sanders on grounds that the brief statement of faith is ambiguous in defining inerrancy. The executive committee voted 7-2 to expel Sanders but the two dissenting members -- Howard and Wheaton College’s Gregory Beale -- opposed his dismissal because of a perceived fogginess in the confession’s definition of inerrancy.

Howard said the society needs to consider adopting a fuller-orbed definition of inerrancy. One possibility is the detailed Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, which both Pinnock and Sanders say they affirm. A change in the confession must be approved by 80 percent of the membership.

“I think, at the very minimum, we need to adopt a definition of inerrancy,” Howard said. “Whether it be the Chicago Statement or something [else], but we need to officially adopt it. I‘m not quite so convinced we need a full doctrinal basis [for membership].

“I think we will go to that and my only concern is that we don’t write it so narrowly that we start writing out large groups of people, that we don’t start trying to do so in terms of conduct or social issues or things like that. It has to be brief enough that it would protect where we are but it wouldn’t narrow the focus of the society.”

Roger Nicole, a founding member of ETS, said the organization is not in jeopardy because it has served notice through the proceedings against Pinnock and Sanders that doctrinal integrity is of paramount importance to the society. Nicole, who originated the charges against Pinnock and Sanders, told members Tuesday night that he may be unable to attend future ETS meetings due to health and travel issues.

“I think the future is good,” Nicole said. “It is a society that can discipline itself. The people who belong to it are now under notice that they cannot just play hide and seek with our confession of faith, that we mean what we say and we are going to stick with it.”

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