Gospel receptivity among unchurched surprisingly high, new book says

Eighty-two percent of unchurched people in North America (more than 130 million) are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church it they are invited, according to a new book by a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor.

In “The Unchurched Next Door” (Zondervan), Thom Rainer draws upon two years of extensive research in all 50 U.S. states and Canada to profile five different “faith stages” among non-Christians and to suggest strategies for reaching people at each stage.

“... [R]eaching lost and unchurched people is not always best accomplished with some cookie-cutter strategy,” writes Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern.

“The unchurched are different in how they respond to the Gospel. We want you to be aware of these differences so that you can reach out to the unchurched in the most effective ways.”

This book is particularly relevant for Christians today because many believers do not realize that their unchurched friends and neighbors may be just one conversation away from committing their lives to Jesus Christ, Rainer said in an interview.

“This is written for lay people to help them realize that most unchurched people are not some type of fire-breathing monsters with whom we can have no relationship. They’re more like our next door neighbors,” he said.

“After researching over 300 unchurched people across America, including Canada as North America, we have found that they’re much more receptive to the Gospel, much more friendly to the church, much more positive toward ministers and Christians than conventional wisdom would have us to believe.”

“The Unchurched Next Door” classifies non-Christians according to a scale of receptivity toward the Gospel, labeled the “Rainer Scale of Faith Stages.” The Rainer Scale ranges from a U1, someone highly receptive to hearing and believing the Gospel, to a U5, someone highly antagonistic and even hostile to the Gospel.

Surprisingly, only five percent of all unchurched people fall into the U5 category—a finding that should drive Christians to tell their non-Christian friends about Jesus Christ, according to Rainer.

“I plead with you to ask yourself if lost people really matter to you,” he writes. “I urge you to look at your life’s priorities and be brutally honest. Do your priorities really reflect a concern for lost people?

“If this book becomes but another nice research project, I will have failed. If it remains on your bookshelf and you have little change in your heart, I will have failed.”

In addition to profiles of unchurched people, Rainer offers insights into how Christians can most effectively reach the unchurched people around them. Among these insights, Rainer counsels believers to speak with the unchurched about the Bible, build relationships with them and not assume that resistance is permanent.

Perhaps most importantly though, Christians must remember the vital role of personal evangelism, Rainer writes.

“Here is a fascinating lesson from the formerly unchurched: One of the most effective ways to communicate the Gospel to lost people is to tell them about Jesus. If my comments seem a bit sarcastic, it is because the formerly unchurched often helped us to see the obvious. ... The formerly unchurched in our study left little doubt as to the importance of direct personal evangelism in reaching the unchurched,” he writes.

The goal of “The Unchurched Next Door,” said Rainer, is to “discern as much information as possible about the world of the unchurched with a prayer that you, the Christian, will be better equipped to reach your friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members and acquaintances with the gospel of Christ.”

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SBTS publishes new Gospel tract

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has published a new witnessing tract that gives full and robust treatment to the Gospel of God’s grace.

Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. unveiled the tract during Southern’s chapel service on Sept. 25. The tract, which was developed by evangelism and church growth professor Timothy Beougher and two students in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, uses the acrostic “G.R.A.C.E.” to outline the Gospel. It is titled “Experiencing God’s Grace.”

“It is so rich in Scripture,” Mohler said. “It is so clear in its Gospel presentation, it uses the right vocabulary, it defines and explains the right vocabulary and it leads person to the cross. It is a very effective Gospel presentation, is theologically correct and I believe it is evangelistically potent.”

At 28 pages, the work is meaty. It begins by asserting God as the Creator and Lord of the universe. It fleshes out God’s moral character and His claim upon human beings whom He has created in His image.

The next points in the acrostic sequence include “R” which stands for “rebellion” and addresses the fall and man’s sinfulness, followed by “A” which speaks of Christ’s atonement, “C” which speaks of the necessity of repentance and faith in conversion, and “E” which deals with the reality and meaning of eternal life. Each section contains numerous Scripture verses and sections of text that explain each Gospel precept.

The idea for a new tract arose in the fall of 2001 while master of divinity student Bryant Glisson was taking Beougher’s personal evangelism class. Glisson proposed using the acrostic G.R.A.C.E. as a means of summarizing and presenting the Gospel.

Beougher and Glisson worked together and developed the first draft of the booklet and doctoral student David Bell assisted in writing and editing. The tract was then circulated among 25 members of the Southern Seminary faculty for comments and suggestions.

The tract intentionally begins with the character and attributes of God. A weakness of some tracts is that they risk confusing the reader by beginning their Gospel presentation at a place that leaves the reader confused as to why he needs forgiveness, Beougher said.

A person does not understand his sinfulness and need of redemption until he has first grasped the holy and righteous character of God.

“Richard Baxter, the great [Puritan] pastor of the 17th century made an interesting analogy of this truth,” Beougher said. “If a messenger from a king were to come with a pardon to a convicted criminal, about to be hung on the gallows, that man would receive that pardon gratefully and humbly. He knows he deserves to die but the king has pardoned him.

“But if that same messenger from the king were to deliver a message of pardon to an innocent bystander in the crowd, that person would be confused, perhaps even angry. That person would not see himself as in need of a pardon [he would say] ‘it is the man on the gallows who is guilty, not me.’

“I believe God must be the starting point for people to see the full picture of sin and salvation. There is a strong emphasis on God’s character of holiness and love, and on our necessary response of repentance and faith.”

Students attending chapel each received two copies of the tract and Mohler challenged them to give away the booklets within seven days and to disseminate 52 additional copies within the next year.

“I think of this tract as a pocket-sized Power Point presentation of the Gospel,” Mohler said. “It will help you share the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe the Lord will bless this.

“And what better representation can there be of our determination to be evangelists for the Gospel than we are willing to put it into form where we will put it into hands and put it into voice and put the Gospel to feet.”

Anyone wishing to obtain a free copy of “Experiencing God’s Grace” may send a self-addressed stamped envelope along with 60 cents postage to: The Billy Graham School, SBTS, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY, 40280.

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Commentary: Song of Songs celebrates husband-wife intimacy

The Old Testament book Song of Songs celebrates the joys of physical love between a husband and wife, Daniel L. Akin argues in a new commentary.

Akin is co-author of the commentary with David George Moore, who is founder and president of Two Cities Ministries. The volume, which is part of the Holman Old Testament Commentary series (Broadman & Homan), also covers Ecclesiastes, which Moore handles.

“The Song of Songs is an important part of the Bible because it displays the beauty of human love in freedom and spontaneity,” Akin writes. “Its neglect has been the church’s loss. At a time when marriages are struggling more than ever to survive, its recovery and study would be a significant move forward.

“The speakers in this beautiful Song are dramatic and captivating throughout. The highly figurative phrases of the work have caused much disagreement concerning interpretation, but it is best to understand the Song as the dialogue between two lovers with all their feelings and emotions for each other.”

Readers of the Song of Songs must take interpretation of the book a step further, Akin said. While it applies to a love relationship between two persons, the message of Song of Songs also illustrates the love union between the believer and Christ in His redemption, Akin points out.

Akin authored a book that was released earlier this year based on Song of Songs entitled, “God on Sex: The Creator’s Ideas About Love, Intimacy, and Marriage” (Broadman & Holman). “God on Sex” is similar to the commentary in focus.

The commentary demonstrates how particular passages are directly applicable to the contemporary husband-wife relationship. For example, in applying Song of Songs 2:10-14, Akin poses a question to the husband: “Is he tender with his words?” Akin lists three things one might listen for in a potential lifelong spouse: praise, particulars, and passion.

In the same passage, Akin unpacks the importance of a mate carefully choosing his or her words while conversing with theirs spouse.

“How we say things can be as important as what we say,” Akin writes. “A kind attitude and a tender tone will foster receptive ears on the other end. For the third time Shulammite referred to Solomon as her ‘beloved,’ her ‘lover.’ With gentleness and tenderness in his voice, he spoke and she listened.”

In dealing with 3:6-11, Akin unfolds God’s word on a Christian’s wedding day. Contrary to the extravagance and man-centeredness of most modern weddings, Akin argues that the day is to be God-centered. A great wedding will be a celebration, should contain a promise of protection, a pledge of commitment and the approval of others, he says.

Akin defines Christian marriage as “a divine covenant between God, a man, and a woman...a time of celebration and commitment...the covenant is a binding commitment for life testified to by a public ceremony (Song of Songs 3:6-11) and a private consummation (4:1-5:1).”

Writes Akin,”Marriage, after all was [God’s] idea. He has a pattern. He has a plan. Marriage can be different when we invite the holy Trinity to honor the wedding and direct the marriage. Our expectations, hopes, and dreams can and will be radically altered and transformed, and all for the better.”

The commentary concludes with a teaching outline, an example of a marriage covenant and a number of discussion questions.

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Ministers must order their ways before the Lord, Johnson says

Building godly character is an essential part of a minister’s college education, said Boyce College Dean Jerry Johnson.

Preaching at the Boyce’s opening chapel for the fall semester, Johnson told students that a minister’s effectiveness hinges upon the extent to which he orders his ways before the Lord. A minister who orders his ways before the Lord in college, Johnson said, will develop character that pleases God and prepares him for a lifetime ministry.

“You’re here studying for ministry, preparing for ministry, planning for ministry. And if the call is genuine and sincere, I‘m sure you don’t want to be just an average professional,” he said. “We don’t just want (you) to be a minister, but hopefully an anointed, blessed, mighty, greatly used minister.”

Using the life of King Jotham in 2 Chronicles 27 as a model, Johnson highlighted several ways that ministerial students should order their ways before the Lord.

First, students must not let youthfulness hinder them from serving God faithfully.

Though students often view college as a time of preparation rather than active ministry, Johnson cautioned against such an attitude. Serving in a local church during college, he said, is actually an important step to a lifetime of faithful ministry.

“I want to remind you that [Charles Haddon] Spurgeon pastored the largest and most influential church in London when he was a teenager. Dr. [W.A.] Criswell, one of my heroes, pastored his first church when he was 18.

“Probably at least two of the disciples that Jesus picked were teenagers,” Johnson said. “I want to encourage you, if you know God has called you to ministry, not to wait. Don’t let your youth keep you from serving right now.”

Another step students must take is to do right in the sight of the Lord, Johnson said.

Newfound freedoms in college make it imperative that students set godly personal standards and resist temptations to stray from the Lord’s commandments, he said.

“Are you going to resolve to do what’s right in the sight of the Lord?” Johnson asked. “I’m talking about what you look at on your computer. I‘m talking about academic integrity as you write a paper. No one else will know some of these things but you and God. And you need to resolve today: with God’s strength and God’s help [to say], ‘I’m going to seek to do what’s right in His eyes and live before an audience of one.’”

Remembering the godly example of parents and other Christian mentors can be an encouragement in the process of character development, he said. Just as Jotham followed the godly example of his father and grandfather, Boyce students should look to their own Christian relatives for encouragement to follow God.

“It means a lot to us to think about our godly heritage and to honor that, a heritage which is defending the faith, studying the Scripture, giving ourselves to knowing the Word and preaching the Word,” he said.

Over the next 20 years, faithfulness in ministry will become increasingly difficult to maintain, Johnson said. As religious pluralism and sexual promiscuity escalate, the temptation will increase for ministers to deviate from Scripture.

Boyce graduates, however, must stand firm amid cultural chaos, he said. And they must draw strength from godly character—character that they will develop during their time in college.

Said Johnson, “If you are going to be a minister of the Gospel, if you are a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s going to mean that you don’t let your age keep you from serving, that you do what is right in the sight of the Lord. You are a Christian. You have the name of Christ. What your Lord thinks is the most important thing.”

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Pool on sick leave as problems repaired

If there was a disabled list for swimming pools, the main pool of Southern Seminary’s Health and Recreation Center would be on it.

Since mid-July, numerous mechanical problems have afflicted the 13-year-old, Olympic-size pool, including a bad circulation pump, brown water and deteriorated liner, among others.

The good news is that surgery will be soon, said David Fletcher, director of Southern’s Health and Recreation Center. The more disappointing news is that the pool will probably be out of commission until early spring.

“I know it’s inconvenient to a lot of people,” Fletcher said. “... It’s a pretty massive system back there. There’s a lot of things people take for granted.”

The pool trouble began earlier this summer.

The circulation pump had started to rumble like a jet airplane. And for those unfamiliar with the mechanisms of a 186,000 gallon pool -- that’s not a good thing.

The pump -- which had moved 800 gallons of water a minute 24 hours a day over 13 years -- had to be shut down due to faulty ball bearings.

This created more problems. While the pump was being fixed, the water did not circulate through the pipes. So, when the pump started pumping again, copper from the pipes combined with the chlorine to produce the brown, coffee-like color currently seen in the pool.

“Chemically you can swim in it,” Fletcher said. “It’s fine. There’s no bacteria. It’s perfect, normal swimming water.”

But since no one wants to swim in brown water, Fletcher said that the copper still needed to be filtered out. To remove the copper, Fletcher employed numerous means to try to bind the copper together to make it large enough for the sand filters to pick up. Nothing worked.

The only cost-effective option left was to drain the pool, Fletcher said. Draining the pool, however, does have additional advantages, he added. It presents opportunities to fix the pool’s other age-related problems -- some of which were actually exposed by pump breakdown.

“The circulation pump going down in one sense was a blessing in disguise because it revealed some other underlying problems that we didn’t know were there,” Fletcher said.

These other repairs include: repairing some valves and compressors, repainting the lap lanes, mending the marcite liner, replacing the 10 tons of sand in the sand filters and replacing the ceiling tiles over the pool. Most of these repairs need the pool to be drained in order to be completed.

“Now that we’re in this situation ... we’re going to try to do the other work that needs to be done to the pool,” Fletcher said.

Unfortunately, draining the pool does present some risks, he added.

“Whenever you drain a swimming pool, there is the danger of what we call in the swimming pool community, ‘floating the pool,’” Fletcher said. “If there’s groundwater underneath the swimming pool, it will push the pool up out of the ground.”

This problem actually occurred at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Fletcher said. “It twisted the support girders of the building, and they had to condemn their whole student activities center because it was structurally unsound. So the administration here has been very hesitant to drain the pool, and you can understand why.”

Fortunately, there are steps to take to prevent this “floating,” Fletcher said. The pool can be drained in the fall when the water table is lower. And hydrostatic release valves can be placed in the pool, so that the pool will fill with water from underneath.

Even with all the complexities of fixing a pool of this size, the process is moving forward, Fletcher said.

“What the seminary is in the process of doing now is getting bids to have all the work done that needs to be done to the pool,” he said.

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Seminary student leading local Hispanic church

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Brad White pastors a church in which many of the parishioners are still learning English as well as Baptist polity.

In July of 2002, White was named interim pastor of New Dawn Baptist Church, a Hispanic church in Ballardsville, Ky. Last May, ‘interim’ was dropped from his title and White—a master of divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—became the church’s pastor.

“There are several baptized believers in the church now and most of them have a Roman Catholic background,” White said. “They are not familiar with a Baptist understanding of the local church and of church membership.

“I am preaching a series now on the church and have just finished writing material for a new members class, so we will be able to give people an opportunity to join the church.”

New Dawn has eight members and averages 25-35 adults and 5-15 children in attendance each Sunday. The church still relies heavily on its sponsor church, Ballardsville Baptist Church, so the first goal is to help New Dawn become an autonomous church, White said.

The church is also helping its members to learn the English language. It holds English classes one day a week.

A native of Paducah, Ky., White graduated from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a minor in biblical studies.

White studied Spanish throughout high school, but it was a mission trip to Peru following his sophomore year at Union that sewed the seed of desire for missions in White. It also caused White to change the focus of his studies.

“I came back with a passion for Hispanic missions,” he said. “My major at Union up to that point had been biblical studies and Spanish had been my minor. After that trip, I switched and made Spanish my major and biblical studies my minor.”

Upon graduating from Union, he took a full-time ministry position in Jackson, serving in the Hispanic ministry of Poplar Heights Baptist Church, where he remained in 2000-2001. He worked part-time at the church in 1999.

Brad’s wife, Cassie, also a Paducah native, shares his love for Hispanic people and culture. Cassie studied Spanish for three years in high school and majored in the language at Union University, where she met her future husband.

Like her husband, a mission trip proved pivotal in shaping Cassie’s future. She traveled to Nicaragua the summer after her senior year in high school. It sparked an interest in missions and an appreciation for Hispanic culture.

“After learning about the culture in my classes and after many more trips to Latin America, I knew that I wanted to be involved in ministry to Spanish-speaking persons in some capacity,” she said.

“Then, through dating Brad and being involved in the Hispanic congregation, my passion has grown. I found myself being drawn to Hispanics. I just really like them. I like engaging in conversation with them and I like participating in their culture. It is easy to be involved in ministry to people that I like so much.”

A missionary from Venezuela planted New Dawn in October of 2001. White planned on serving the church as interim until it found a pastor. After calling one candidate only to see him fall through, White was the natural choice.

While the church is growing in numbers, knowledge, and grace, the Whites still see their long-term future as existing on the mission field in Latin America.

“I knew after that mission trip my sophomore year in college that that was where God ultimately wanted me to be,” he said. “We have been happy to come here and meet a need. It is great to have an opportunity to do ministry here with these people.”

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Christian discipleship demands political engagement, Moore says

When most Christians think about evangelical political engagement, the first images that come to mind are organizations that assemble a potpourri of people to address a specific issue like abortion, homosexuality or taxes.

However, true Christian political engagement extends much deeper than merely speaking to one or two issues, according to Russell Moore, assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Biblical teachings on the Kingdom of God include a mandate for Christians to transform every aspect of culture—including politics, Moore said.

Moore made his comments in a lecture entitled “Christ and the Public Square” hosted by the theology council at Southern. Moore serves as executive director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, a think-tank devoted to equipping churches and church leaders to engage the culture from a biblical worldview perspective.

“When we think about how we’re to engage politically, one of the first things that we need to be reminded of is that the New Testament and the Old Testament are inherently political,” he said. “... The question is how then do we relate New Testament Christianity to a pluralistic, democratic society in which we live?”

Referencing the writings of Carl Henry, Moore said that in order for Christians to engage effectively in political activity, they must think through three foundational areas of theology.

First, Christians must think through their beliefs about the end times and Christ’s second coming.

“In order for evangelicals to engage politically, we have got to come to some common understanding of eschatology. And by saying that, I am not saying that we all need to agree on the nature of the millennium. The issues [are] far bigger than that. We have to agree on what the Bible is talking about when it talks about the Kingdom,” Moore said.

There has traditionally been a split among evangelicals as to how believers should understand the Kingdom of God, he said. Some contend that the Kingdom of God is a heavenly reality disconnected from this life while others argue that the Kingdom of God exists on the earth within individual believers.

The biblical perspective is actually a combination of both positions though, Moore said. Properly understood, Scriptural teaching on the Kingdom of God commands Christians both to bring this world into conformity with God’s standards and to wait for a perfect future Kingdom, he said.

“In reality, the New Testament teaches ... the world is headed towards the Kingdom, [and] the Kingdom is present now in a hidden form,” Moore said. “There are going to be successes. There are going to be failures, but ultimately we do not bring in the Kingdom. Christ brings in the Kingdom.”

Second, Christians must think through their beliefs about the doctrine of salvation.

In the past century, theologians have polarized into two groups when it comes to their beliefs about salvation, Moore said. One group has insisted that salvation is exclusively about transformation of society. The other argues that salvation is concerned exclusively with personal regeneration, he said.

In reality, however, salvation should include both personal regeneration and social transformation, Moore said.

“We need to come together as evangelicals and realize that when the New Testament talks about salvation, it is talking about an act of the Messiah. That means it’s about more than simply plucking out individual souls to Heaven. It means that there is an ethical transformation that does indeed speak to every area of life,” he said.

“That means we are concerned not simply with evangelism in a very isolated way, but as people who believe in evangelism we are concerned for life. If you believe in a Gospel of life, that means you are concerned about those who are right now languishing in freezers in an in vitro clinic somewhere. That should break your heart. It means you should be concerned for orphans in Africa who are riddled with AIDS right now. It means you should be concerned about all of those issues of life and death because the Gospel says that life is better than death.”

Third, Christians must think through their beliefs about the Church.

The Church is simultaneously a colony of heaven awaiting future salvation and a people of God modeling His standards to the world, Moore said. And as the people of God, the Church must speak to political issues.

“That means that we need to fight for religious liberty,” he said. “When you have individuals saying, ‘You have no business sending missionaries to Iraq,’ that’s oppressing them. The state can’t tell us no to that.

“We have the right to speak to the state, and we can’t be segregated out simply because we have a worldview and convictions that inform who we are.”

Moore concluded, “In order to speak to the culture, we need to not just be concerned about politics although we do. We need to be concerned also about theology because the two are linked together.”

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“God” of open theism is not the God of the Bible, new book argues

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)—The “God” of open theism is not the God found in Scripture, a new book by a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor argues.

In the book “Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God” (Crossway Books), Bruce A. Ware helps Christians understand what happens when they accept the “God” of open theism.

Open theism, often called “the openness of God,” asserts that God does not know in advance the free actions and choices of His creatures. God is not only surprised often by those actions, He is also unable to ensure that suffering and evil work for good.

Historically, Christianity has held that God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive and perfectly accurate, and that that He works in and through all events of history—even suffering—to His own glory.

As the title—a play on J.B. Phillips’ classic work “Your God is Too Small”— suggests, Ware argues that the deity of open theism is too small. Openness views are not only distorted, but also dangerous, he writes.

“Clearly, the proponents of open theism are commending their view as both biblical and enhancing of our understanding of how we should live as Christians,” Ware writes in the first chapter. Ware is associate dean of Southern Seminary’s school of theology and is also professor of Christian theology.

“But it is my deep conviction, and the conviction of many other evangelicals, that the open view distorts the Christian portrayal of God and his relations with his people so much that open theism must not be viewed as ‘just another’ legitimate Christian understanding.

“In other words, this issue is not like our differences over questions of the nature of the millennium and the timing of the return of Christ...No, the open view of God represents a departure from the church’s uniform understanding of Scripture and a distortion of the biblical portrayal of God.”

In the five-chapter work, Ware deals with open theism as it relates broadly to the Christian faith and specifically as it effects God’s foreknowledge, suffering, prayer and hope. Ware also authored a book on the same topic in 2001, “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism” (Crossway). While that work interacted with openness literature on a scholarly level, “Their God” is intended for a popular audience.

Why do open theists seek to reformulate the traditional understanding of God? Ware offers three reasons:

· They view one’s relationship with God as being more vital and “real” when God does not know all their actions in advance.

· When suffering and affliction enter the lives of believers, open theists believe their view of God provides genuine comfort. This despite their argument that there is often no divine purpose for suffering, Ware points out.

· Open theists argue that their theology better accounts for Scripture’s teaching about God.

Best-known among openness teachers and authors are Clark Pinnock, who penned “The Openness of God,” John Sanders, author of “The God Who Risks,” and Greg Boyd, author of “God of the Possible.”

Open theists seek to establish a genuine “give-and-take” relationship between God and the believer, but Ware argues they rob God of His power instead. Open theism empties passages that admonish the believer to trust wholly in God of their meaning and leaves the Christian with no compelling reason to rest in God. If open theists are correct, then passages such as Prov. 3:5-6 make little sense, he asserts.

“What happens to these admonitions and assurances if the God of open theism is considered to be the true God?” asks Ware. “For one thing, the extent to which we can place our full trust in God, simply put, is demolished.

“Yes, the God of open theism will always want our best, but since he may not in fact know what is best, it becomes impossible to give him our unreserved and unquestioning trust? What are we to conclude?

“Can we say with confidence, ‘These hardships area all part of the plan God has for me by which his good purposes will be accomplished?’ If the God in whom we trust is the openness God, the answer must be a resounding no.”

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‘Revolve’ New Testament trivializes Gospel message, Moore says on MSNBC

LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Thomas Nelson Publishers’ “Revolve” New Testament -- a New Testament packaged to resemble a fashion magazine -- “tends to trivialize the message of the Gospel,” Russell Moore said on MSNBC Sept. 13.

Moore, assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., appeared on the cable network to discuss the new Bible with a spokesperson for Thomas Nelson Publishers, Laurie Whaley.

Designed specifically to appeal to teenage girls, the fast-selling product features New Testament books interspersed with items normally reserved for fashion magazines. Released in mid-July, the new Bible includes features such as dating tips, makeup secrets and interviews with teenage boys.

“The research that we did with teens across the country indicated that they find the Bible to be very intimidating ... and some of them even called it ‘freaky,’” Whaley said. “... And so we asked them, ‘Well, what do your read?’ And the response that came back was, ‘We read magazines.’ And so that was where the initial idea came to take the message of the Bible and to put it in a format in which teen girls were accustomed.”

The Gospel, however, is a counter-cultural message that calls Christians to live a radically different life from the world around them, Moore said. Revolve, while printed with good intentions, may actually compromise the Gospel message.

“The ‘freakiness’ of the Bible, as the publisher has just said, is precisely what gives it the power to save,” Moore said. “It’s a message that’s not glamorous at all. It’s a message of a crucified and resurrected Christ who calls all people everywhere to reconciliation with God through Him. It’s that otherness of the Bible that gives it its power.”

While fashion and dating articles in Revolve may help the New Testament to appear more relevant to teens, Moore warned that they may inadvertently compromise “the seriousness and the authority” of the Scripture.

“I think having the message of the crucifixion and the resurrection on the same page as beauty tips about Jesus as the foundation of one’s makeup just tends to trivialize and make frivolous the message that comes with it,” he said.

One feature in Revolve titled, “Spiritual facials,” tells teen readers, “Spiritual cleansing is like a facial cleansing. The fire of God’s love burns out the sin the same way the hot steam routs the dirt out of your pores.”

Whaley said such features, rather than trivializing Scripture, help teens to see the relevance of the Bible to their lives.

“I don’t think it trivializes,” she said. “I understand the concern of trivializing. I think what it does is it pulls out points of relevance for teen girls today, and it shows them indeed that the Bible and that the message of the Bible and that the teaching of the Bible, that the truth that Dr. Moore was just referring to is prevalent throughout the entire New Testament.”

Revolve has been so successful that Thomas Nelson plans to release a similar Bible geared toward teenage boys, Whaley said. The male version will feature articles on sex, girls, dating, cars, outdoors, sports, music and money.

Moore, reiterating his concern that juxtaposing Scripture with the values of pop culture confuses the message of the Gospel, said, “I’m reading the text of this Revolve Bible, and I‘m reading the text of the Bible, but I‘m also hearing all of the values of Cosmopolitan magazine and Glamour magazine. ... This is a message that comes through saying that supermodels shall inherit the earth. That’s not the message of the Gospel.”

Moore said he supports “any effort to reach teenage girls with the Gospel. But I think we need to do it with the Gospel and with the authority of the Word of God. And when you have right along with the text of what God is saying [to] us quotes from teenage guys about what they find attractive in girls, I think that confuses the message and tends to bring teenage girls to a point of confusion about the authority of the Bible, which is exactly what saves.”

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Mohler to students: “Don’t just stand there, do something”

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—The Christian is not called to a life of peaceful passivity but to one of active “wartime” obedience in winning lost souls to Christ, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Aug. 26 in his annual convocation address at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The annual address was Mohler’s 11th since being elected president of Southern Seminary in 1993. In his first convocation a decade ago, Mohler preached a sermon on the critical nature of a seminary’s standing firmly upon a confession of faith entitled “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There.”

Playing off his first address, Mohler entitled his anniversary sermon, from John 9:1-7, “Don’t Just Stand There, Do Something.” He urged students to be rigorous in their study of theological disciplines while also doing the work of God by proclaiming the Gospel through missions and personal evangelism.

Mohler warned against “seminary syndrome,” which causes students to see the ministry as being temporarily put off until studies are complete. There is no such thing as “ministry on hold,” or “evangelism on pause,” he said.

“My concern is that we can get it all right and all wrong at the same time,” he said. “My concern is that we will teach the structure of the faith and miss its spirit [or that] we will be satisfied with a knowing left incomplete without a doing.”

Mohler said it is vital that ministers and all Christians understand biblical doctrines such as the sovereignty of God, justification by faith, and others tied to redemption. But he said a genuine understanding of the Gospel will by necessity lead to a compulsion to tell others about the “old, old story” of the saving grace of God.

He pointed to the myriad of New Testament commands that call Christians to action—go, teach, witness, serve, tell, preach, feed, endure, among many others—as evidence that the Christian life is not merely a lifeless “head game.”

“It (understanding doctrine) must lead to a compulsion to tell others, to see sinners come to faith in Christ or it is no true theology,” he said. “There really is no danger of being orthodox and [also] unevangelistic, because if so, your orthodoxy is no orthodoxy at all.”

In his inaugural convocation, Mohler addressed the necessity of a seminary adhering closely to a confession of faith. At the outset of Mohler’s presidency, the school was firmly in the hands of theological moderates.

In the decade since, Southern Seminary has undergone a reformation during which it has hired a faculty fully dedicated to believing, living, and teaching the school’s confession, the Abstract of Principles, Mohler said.

While the Abstract of Principles trumpets historic Christian orthodoxy, Mohler said the seminary’s founding fathers penned the confession with a “missionary theology” in view. The same is true for the Southern Baptist Convention’s confession, the Baptist Faith and Message, he said.

“The theology defined and confessed in the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith & Message is a missionary theology that is transformed into Great Commission passion,” Mohler said. “If you lack that passion, you do not understand the theology. It is a head game and not a heart reality.

“It is so easy for us to live in this community and for us to be busy about our academic task and forget that there are people gong to hell around us. But we are witnesses who have to make the point clear: you will either obey the Gospel or you will disobey the Gospel. There is no neutrality.

“It [the Gospel] is not a product that is set out for consideration. It is the Gospel that saves. All who desire salvation will find it in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and none will be denied. But those who deny their salvation bring eternal judgement upon themselves.”

The church has fallen into a lethargic “peacetime footing” when it should be urgently waging spiritual warfare on behalf of souls lost in a culture that is decaying at a frightening pace, Mohler said.

The church has followed post 9-11 America in lulling itself to sleep with the notion of a false peace, he said.

“How much more so is the tragedy of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, falling into comfort in a culture such as this, playing war, while living at peace,” Mohler said.

“We need to get the church back on a wartime footing, for we are called to battle. We are called to transform. We are called to preach. We are not called to sit and merely to receive.”

Pointing to the brevity and uncertainty of life, Mohler exhorted students to make the most of every moment in the both classroom and the ministry.

“The shortness of time should be very much on our minds,” he said. “Every day ripped off the calendar is a day that cannot be lived again. We must work the work of Him who sent us while it is day.”

Mohler said Southern Seminary’s professors must lead students by example in personal evangelism. He warned students against viewing evangelism as something they are called to do only at some point in the future. Missions and evangelism are both urgent and non-negotiable, he said, because the glory of God is at stake.

“To those of us on the faculty, if we are not driven to lead our students into evangelism—then we must teach somewhere else,” Mohler said. “Students, if you think evangelism is something you are called to do at some point in the future, rather than the present, or something that someone else is called to do—go study somewhere else.

“And beloved, if your theology does not issue in a determination to see the glory of God in the salvation of the lost and [you do not] see that as a sacred privilege, then take your theology somewhere else,” he said.

“Southern Seminary must be an institution, and we must be individuals, known not only for what we believe, but for what we do. For it is in the believing and the doing that we behold the glory of God.”

Before Mohler’s sermon, two professors signed the Abstract of Principles: Charles E. Lawless, Jr., and Robert A. Vogel. Lawless is associate professor of evangelism and church growth and is senior associate dean of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth. Vogels is professor of Christian preaching.

Mohler also installed two to professors to endowed professorships. Lawless was installed as the William Walker Brookes associate professor of evangelism and church growth. George Martin was installed as M. Theron Rankin professor of Christian Missions.

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