Effective preaching centers on application, new book says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Effective preaching must move beyond mere explanation of biblical facts and teach listeners how to apply God’s truths to their lives, according to a new book by one Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor.

In Preaching with Bold Assurance (Broadman & Holman Publishers), Hershael York, Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at Southern, and Bert Decker, chairman and founder of Decker Communications, Inc., argue that the most successful preaching places a dual emphasis on exposition and communication in order to conform listeners to the will of God.

“If you get nothing else from this book, understand this: sermons are not about just imparting information. They should be custom-built to change lives. We don’t want to fill their heads; we want the proclamation of the Word to grip their souls and motivate them to conform to the will of God. Our approach to the Bible and to preaching, therefore, has application as its ultimate goal,” the authors write.

“Our prayer is that preachers will never choose between being either biblical or effective but learn that they can and must be both.”

To compose effective sermons, York and Decker argue that preachers must focus on three key elements of preaching: the text, the sermon and the delivery.

First and foremost, effective preaching demands an expository approach, they argue.

“Expository preaching is defined not by a style nor by a particular methodology, but by the end result of explaining and applying the meaning of the text,” they write. “Expository preaching is any kind of preaching that shows people the meaning of a biblical text and leads them to apply it to their lives.”

Unfortunately, however, York and Decker contend that true expository preaching has become a rarity in American churches.

“While many preachers will stand in a pulpit this Sunday, few who would call themselves expositors will. Fewer still will be the number of preachers who actually are expositional in their preaching.”

Yet expository preaching “is what God uses to change lives more than any other kind [of preaching], because a person cannot preach expository messages unless he is saturated with the Word of God. And the more our sermons are dependent on the inspired text, the more inherent power they will have,” York and Decker write.

For a sermon to be truly dependent on the Bible, the preacher must study the context, the content, and the application of his text, they argue. Such activities as outlining and diagramming passages are effective methods of engaging a biblical text.

Secondly, effective preaching requires skill in the act of sermon crafting.

“The sermon is the bridge we build between the text and the congregation,” write York and Decker. “With Bible-based truth and listener-based delivery, the sermon carries God’s Word to man’s ears and on to his heart. So it is essential that we be committed both to biblical truth and also to culturally relevant styles of communication.”

Part II of “Preaching with Bold Assurance” guides preachers in the technical aspects of building a relevant sermon, discussing such topics as sermon outlining, illustrating a point, introducing a sermon, and concluding a sermon.

Thirdly, effective preaching requires skillful sermon delivery.

“What is the most important thing in communicating?” the authors ask. “Is it content or delivery? Simply put—it’s both. You cannot effectively have one without the other. Just as you have spent years of study and preparation in learning how to handle the text, so must you learn how to handle the tools of delivering the message so that the message reaches your intended listeners.”

Most important to effective sermon delivery, argue York and Decker, is establishing trust with the congregation. To establish trust, a preacher must utilize both verbal and visual communication.

They caution, however, that preachers should not view their task as one of selling the Gospel.

“We are not at all suggesting that people accept the gospel based on the sophistication of our presentation. What we are suggesting is that they will not even hear the gospel if they do not find us credible. They must have an emotional response to the evangelist before they can ever hear the evangel.”

Ultimately, York and Decker contend that Christian preaching can be the most powerful tool of communication in the world because of its content and power.

“Christian communicators have the potential to become the greatest communicators in the world. If our message is biblical, then it is unquestionably true and has the inherent power of the Holy Spirit that transcends any human message or capacity.”

They conclude by admonishing preachers, “Never forget what a privilege God has given you. You speak for God! You are an ambassador of heaven, a bearer of the best news that people could ever hear. That responsibility demands and deserves your best.”

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Southern journal examines reasons behind conservative resurgence

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--The Southern Baptist conservative resurgence has been driven foremost by a deep concern for faithfulness to scriptural teaching and is not a reaction to increasingly secularized culture, writers in the spring issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology assert.

The issue, a publication of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, focuses on “Theology, Culture, and the SBC,” and interacts with Barry Hankins’ recent book, “Uneasy in Babylon.”

Thomas R. Schreiner, professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary, contends that many of the issues addressed by Southern Baptist conservatives have cultural ramifications, but are fundamentally theological.

“[Hankins] rightly points out that many of the theological issues that took center stage also have cultural ramifications,” Schreiner writes. “But this is scarcely surprising. Faithfulness to the teaching of Scripture demands that we declare in public the teaching of Scripture that is contravened in our age and time.”

Schreiner, though, argues that a merely cultural explanation of the conservative resurgence does not fully explain why conservatives have raised certain issues.

“We emphasize inerrancy and the necessity of personal faith in Christ to be saved because many in the theological community deny these truths,” he writes.

Schreiner is one of four Southern Seminary faculty members who interact with “Uneasy in Babylon.” The others are seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr., and professors Gregory A. Wills and Russell D. Moore.

Hankins, associate professor of history and church-state relations at Baylor University, offers a response to the Southern faculty.

The writers contend that the Southern Baptist conflict centered on the issue of biblical authority. Moore, assistant professor of Christian theology, says that Hankins miscalculates the extent to which cultural phenomena drove the conservative resurgence.

“Contrary to Hankins’ thesis, conservatives did not rally Southern Baptists around inerrancy in order to fight a battle against abortion, the sexual revolution, feminism or any other cultural phenomenon,” Moore writes.

“Instead these issues crystallized the debate over larger theological and missiological questions of biblical authority, the Great Commission, and the prophetic role of the church in protecting those the culture deems not worthy of life.”

Conservatives are most concerned with the advance of the Word of God, Moore argues.

“Baptist conservatives know they will not find Jerusalem in an idyllic southern culture or in a Republican White House or in a less profane Hollywood,” he writes. “They must seek to hold back the cultural darkness, but they know they will find a New Jerusalem only in the Kingdom of Christ -- a Kingdom that is seen even now in the advance of the Gospel around the world.”

Wills, associate professor of church history, says that theological conviction has driven conservatives to confront liberalism in the seminaries for decades. The resurgence of the 1980s was grounded in conservative activity from decades earlier.

“Conservatives believed that the denomination was drifting from orthodoxy,” Wills writes. “Although they raised some accusations against other denominational agencies, the seminaries were the main targets. Many aspects of the post-1979 campaign to expunge liberalism from the seminaries arose from the denominational experiences in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Echoing Moore in his critique of Hankins, Wills contends that conservatives “were not seeking a platform for countercultural political endeavors but an orthodox foundation for advancing the faithfulness of Southern Baptists in fulfilling the divinely ordained mission of the church.”
But Hankins argues that Moore and Wills misunderstand the thesis of “Uneasy in Babylon.”

“Rather than attempting to show that theology is subservient to culture war, I intended to argue that the two are so closely related that a failure to understand one is a failure to understand the other,” Hankins writes. “What Moore and Wills have done is set in opposition the two parts of my interpretation of Southern Baptist conservatives. I do not see these two as oppositional.”

Parties from both sides of the dispute, according to Hankins, tend toward reductionism in labeling the causes of the conservative resurgence. While conservatives often credit the movement wholly to theology, moderates tend to discount theological causes altogether.

“While abortion and the other issues I have covered in ‘Uneasy in Babylon’ are theological in one sense, the public and cultural impact of these issues heightened the perceived need to shore up the theology of the denomination, and the cultural component also helped convince rank-and-file Southern Baptists that something needed to be done.”

However, Mohler argues that the Southern Baptist controversy has fundamentally theological roots extending back to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the 1920s. Over the past 80 years, theological trends have polarized Southern Baptists into two distinct parties, Mohler writes.

The “’Truth Party’ insists that Baptist doctrine and polity are inescapably attached to a prior affirmation of biblical truth, to a clear understanding of biblical authority, and an affirmation of revealed truth as demanding our belief in certain doctrinal essentials,” Mohler writes.

The “Liberty Party,” on the other hand, “is established upon an aggressive assertion of individual rights to interpretation, theological formulation, and experience.”

Mohler concludes, “The defining issues are now before us. The Southern Baptist crisis now comes down to the urgent issue of conviction, confession, and cooperation. The question now presented to the Southern Baptist Convention demands an answer: Will we stand upon the absolute truthfulness and full authority of Holy Scripture?”

The journal also includes 20 book reviews, a sermon on women in the pastorate by Mark Coppenger, pastor of Evanston Baptist Church in Illinois, and an essay on the life and legacy of Herschel Hobbs by Union University President David Dockery.

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Mohler: Love for God and man are twin motives for political action

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Christians have a biblical mandate to work toward redeeming the culture for both the glory of God and the good of man, R. Albert Jr., told attendees of a conservative talk radio conference earlier this spring.

Speaking at the Salem Communications Talk Show Conference on March 21 in Washington, D.C., Mohler urged Christians to teach believers how to bring an eternal, biblically-informed perspective to bear on issues while living and serving society in this temporal world. Mohler hosts a weekly talk radio show called “Truth on the Line,” heard locally in Louisville and on the Internet at www.truthontheline.com.

“We must tell the truth and we must continue to tell the truth, explain, paint the big picture, seek to be persuasive,” Mohler said. “But in all things, (we must) be animated by a love of neighbor that is rooted in the love of God. We must have eternity on the horizon and we must have our mind set on eternal things in order that we may deal rightly with earthly things.”

Today’s society rejects norms that once served as bedrock foundations for a civil society such as fixed morality, absolute truth, ultimate meaning, authority, and belief in the God of the Bible, Mohler said. The postmodern mantra is an ode to the sovereign self, he said.

“The self becomes so sovereign that everything is determined by what the self wants, how the self feels, what the self desires, and now, what the self will define,” Mohler said. “And this replacement of truth with therapy leaves us in a situation in which people decide what is true on the basis of how they feel about it.”

Moral indignation over hot-button social issues is not enough, Mohler said. He urged radio hosts to articulate a view of Christian citizenship similar to that of fourth century church father Augustine in his classic book “The City of God.”

Augustine set forth a political theology on how Christians are to live as citizens of the city of man while simultaneously living as members of the city of God.

Augustine argued that the Christian’s motivation for loving the city of man and its citizens must ultimately be grounded in their love for God in accord with Scripture’s greatest command of Matthew 22:35-40.

This ‘first and greatest commandment’ says the believer must “love your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Christians are not to hide from the culture, but to engage it, Mohler said.

“If there is a danger in our age among Christians it is that we too would confuse the city of God for the city of man,” Mohler said. “We would confuse the heavenly city and the earthly city and we would exchange the proper love, which we should find in the heavenly city, for the truncated false love of the city of man.

“There are so many citizens of the city of man who do not even know about the city of God, but there should be no one in the city of God who does not know about the city of man. The Christian has a unique responsibility to both cities. We understand that our earthly calling is only a foretaste of things to come.”

Scripture is the final authority as to how Christians are to view their responsibility regarding the establishment of public policy, he said. Christians are to biblically redeem the culture for both the glory of God and the good of man.

“The liberal temptation is to confuse the city of man for the city of God,” Mohler said. “It might be that the conservative temptation is to ignore the city of man for the city of God. And both are forms of sin. Both are an abdication of Christian responsibility.”

In this day, even conservatives can fall prey to political temptation, he said.

“We are to love the city of God and we are to love those who are in the city of man. We are not to love both cities, but we are for the sake of the Creator, to love those whom He has created – the citizens of the kingdom of man.

“The proper proportion is difficult to achieve. The danger is that we will confuse the one city for the other and exchange the one love for the other. The only way to achieve this proper proportion is to make certain that we who are Christians set our sights on the city of heaven and measure our citizenship in the City of Man by the revealed Word given us from the heavenly city.”

Mohler urged radio hosts to make arguments from a comprehensive Christian worldview that is informed by Scripture instead of merely defending or rejecting a particular position of public policy.

Talk show hosts who are seeking to inform Christians on key issues of the day must establish credibility in areas of morality, cultural knowledge, argumentation, and theology. They must know the difference between true and false Christianity, he said.

“We must have moral credibility,” he said. “We must tie together the great issues of our day in a comprehensive moral worldview, rooted in understanding the City of God and in the City of Man, and this moral credibility means we have to make arguments, not just propose positions. We have to make moral arguments, not merely defend policy proposals.

“That is necessary, it is just not sufficient. We have to help our people to see, to form a big picture, to tie together the fabric and knit it all together. We must talk about cloning, euthanasia, justice, the death penalty, stem cell research, war and peace, and everything else, but we have to tie it together in some comprehensive worldview in a moral argument that helps persons to see.”

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Ministers must contend for the true Gospel, Mohler tells grads

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Christian ministers must preach the one true Gospel in an age saturated with false gospels.

In doing so, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told graduates of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary May 16, ministers will discover the Gospel’s power to transform lives.

The Southern Seminary president made his comments during the 191st commencement of the Southern Baptist Convention’s oldest seminary. More than 200 students representing 36 states and eight foreign countries graduated with either master’s-level or doctorate degrees.

A separate ceremony was held later in the day for more than 70 graduates of the seminary’s undergraduate school, Boyce College.

“Our confidence is that the learning that has taken place here is not merely factual and is not merely accurate and is not merely true,” Mohler told graduates, “but is important and vital and urgently necessary for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ that those who minister...might rightly divide the Word of Truth.”

Preaching from Galatians 1:6-12, Mohler drew a contrast between the true Gospel and false gospels. He noted that this text offers several significant insights for ministers seeking to preach the true Gospel.

Ministers must have the courage to identify false gospels of our day, he said. If ministers do not confront false gospels, confusion will erupt in the church.

“Confusion in the church is always due to a false teaching or at least a false understanding of the Gospel, and a false understating of the Gospel inevitably leads to confusion in the church,” Mohler said.

“Human improvement gospels abound. Health and wealth gospels abound. The gospels of easy believism and no discipleship abound. We face this perpetual problem of false gospels, and thus we must always be on watch and guard the flock of God because false gospels kill.”

In this quest to preach the true Gospel, ministers should beware of false authorities that commonly propagate false gospels, said Mohler. Too often, believers think that a high position or a charismatic personality make one a source of authority.

Seminary graduates, he added, must be particularly careful not to think that an advanced degree in theology grants them special authority.

“I hope you’re proud of the diplomas to be presented today, but that diploma is no mark of authority,” Mohler said.
“The church is more often led astray by those who believe they are professionals than those who humbly understand that we, as earthen vessels, are called to be containers of the Gospel that the glory would be in Christ and not us. There is no professional authority.”

The key question for ministers is ultimately whether they will preach a gospel that pleases men or one that pleases God, he said.

“We will either seek to please God or to please men,” Mohler said. “Our frame of reference will either be the transcendent, eternal, infinite God, who has revealed Himself in Scripture, or our frame of reference will be the human beings to whom we will address ourselves. Whose favor will we seek?”

Quoting 2 Corinthians 2:12, Mohler warned that the temptation to please men will always be present.
“What an urgent warning this is lest we reduce our ministry to man-pleasing. We must have as our horizon to please the One who has called us, the only One who is a judge who can declare His verdict.”

If a minister will preach the true Gospel of God’s unmerited favor upon sinful humans, he will experience its power to save, Mohler said.

“The Gospel isn’t about how clever we are in figuring out what God would have us to do,” he said. “In our blindness, in our deadness, in our dullness, in our hardness of heart, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Paul on the Damascus road and to each one of us who knows Him, not as the one we have sought, but as the one who sought us.

“Only one Gospel saves. The Apostle Paul elsewhere says, ‘Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel.’ It is because he knew the power of the authentic Gospel and the futility and the deadliness and the poison of the false gospels.”

The Christian minister’s responsibility, said Mohler, is to preach exclusively the Gospel which is revealed in Scripture.

“For if our ministry is established upon an admixture of human wisdom and the wisdom of God, we will soon find ourselves preaching another gospel, and we will soon bear the judgment of anathema from those who know the true Gospel,” he said.

“Graduates, we are bold as a faculty to pray that the Lord would use you as agents of the Gospel, the real Gospel, the authentic Gospel, the Gospel that saves. And graduates, understand that the greatest concern of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is that those who would minister in the name of Christ would preach any other gospel. May the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified in His church as His Gospel is proclaimed in power, in authority, and in clarity.”

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Mohler on CNN: Authentic Christianity seeks to meet Iraq’s deepest need

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Christian missionaries who are faithful to the command of Christ will seek to meet a spiritual need among the people of post-war Iraq that runs deeper than their need for food and shelter, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told a national television audience May 10.

Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, debated Charles Kimball, chairman of Wake Forest University’s religious department, on the issue of humanitarian aid and evangelism to Iraq on “CNN Saturday.”

A number of Christian groups are planning to provide humanitarian relief for the citizens of Iraq following the war. A debate has arisen over whether missionaries should also take the Gospel into the predominately Muslim country.

Kimball, who is opposed to efforts to tie humanitarian relief to evangelization, said attempts to convert Muslims in Iraq to the Christian faith “smacks of a kind of Christian triumphalism.”

Mohler said authentic biblical Christianity seeks to meet the physical needs of Iraq while at the same time being faithful to the command of Christ to “go into the world and make disciples.” Christians must point all persons to Christ, who alone is able to save, he said.

“I agree with Dr. Kimball that there are urgent humanitarian needs that really must be met,” Mohler said. “I agree with that wholeheartedly. I also agree with his call for sensitivity.

“But we cannot be so sensitive that we abandon the Gospel. We must understand that these people have an even deeper need than food and clothing and shelter. Those immediate needs point to deeper needs.”

Responding to a question from host Fredericka Whitfield on the offensive nature of telling Muslims that Christ is the only way to salvation, Mohler pointed out that Islam also is a faith that seeks converts, so Muslims should not be offended by Christian witness.

“That [one way to salvation] may be offensive, but it is no more offensive than the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been for over 2000 years,” Mohler said.

“Muslims, because they hold to a missionary faith, understand that. And I think we really respect each other enough to speak the truth to each other. I think it is the ultimate tribute of respect that one person can pay to another. As a Christian, that means telling them about Jesus Christ.”

Mohler said that Christians, by asserting Christ as the only way of salvation, are not implying that all Muslims are evil. The exclusive truth claims of Christ demand that the Christian point all persons away from false worldviews and toward the cross, he said.

“We are in a position where truth-telling requires us to say that we believe the Christian Gospel is the only way of salvation,” Mohler said.

“And that means that any other way that leads in any other direction away from the cross of Jesus Christ is a way that leads not unto life, but unto death. That is a non-negotiable issue central to classical, biblical Christianity.”

Kimball, an ordained Baptist minister and a 1975 graduate of Southern Seminary, said he is troubled by Christian truth claims that assert one way to salvation. He said “Iraq’s first need is humanitarian.”

“There are many ways to engage in Christian mission and witness,” Kimball said. “There isn’t a singular way. When we begin to talk in monolithic terms as though there is one true way and only one acid test for true Christianity, then we are starting down the road, I think, to the kinds of things that lead people to justify almost anything in the name of religion.”

Mohler pointed out that Christian missionaries from around the globe -- and not only from America -- are already proclaiming the Gospel in Iraq as well as in every other nation in the world.

The Christian mission did not begin in 2003 but began in the first century with the apostles, Mohler said.

“I’m not speaking operationally on behalf of Christian missions organizations, but I can tell you that this is the heart of Christianity, and Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me.’

“The only way someone who calls themselves a Christian can get around it is by thinking that Jesus actually didn’t say it [or] saying Jesus was wrong.”

Mohler expressed incredulity that the secular left in America is irate over the notion of religious liberty in Iraq, a basic human freedom that Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime has denied the people for many years.

“It’s just interesting that the secular left has all of a sudden become outraged at the idea that the people of Iraq should experience the same religious liberty and hear the same Gospel that Christians preach everywhere else,” he said.

“We would expect that as a basic freedom anywhere. And certainly [we would expect it] where freedom has been earned and where tyranny has been overturned.”

Mohler and Kimball also discussed the topic on the May 5 broadcast of National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air.”

On that program, separate interviews with Mohler and Kimball conducted by host Terry Gross demonstrated that the controversy also centers on different understandings of Scripture.

Kimball told Fresh Air that he grew up believing that Jesus was the only way to salvation but began to question this belief while in college.

Kimball is no longer a Southern Baptist but calls himself “a Baptist in the South.” Kimball said he began to have serious questions about the veracity of Scripture, particularly regarding the first three chapters in Genesis and the differences in the accounts of the resurrection as reported by the four Gospels.

Kimball said these questions helped him to “think outside the box” of historic Christianity and to seek meaning within other faiths.

“I learned to ask questions and think for myself, to think critically and to keep asking questions and seeking out truth, both within my religious tradition and beyond,” Kimball said. “Why is it that there are 1.3 billion Muslims, who for 14-plus centuries have found meaning and been able to guide their lives on the basis of their understanding of religion?

“I think that is an important question to ask as opposed to simply saying, ‘They’re wrong because my experience is right.’ I find that to be a sort of silly and dangerous way to approach these matters.”

Mohler told NPR it is important that the new Iraqi government establish religious liberty. Each person must have the freedom to follow his or her conscience in spiritual matters and to practice his faith of choice, he said.

Such liberty includes the freedom for Christians to proclaim the Good News of Christ, Mohler said.

“I would contend, as an American who believes in religious liberty, for the right of my Jewish neighbor to practice Judaism if that is his heartfelt belief and conviction and the same for every other citizen of this nation, regardless of his or her spiritual convictions,” Mohler said.

“As Christians, we have a responsibility to share the Gospel, but we do not believe in evangelism by coercion, much less by legislation.”

Mohler said it is also important for Christians to communicate the message that missionaries are doing their work under the banner of Christ and not under the banner of the United States government. Christians are united by their relationship to Christ and not by common ethnic or national background.

“I think it is incumbent upon us to make very clear, as Christians, that we are not there in the name of the American government, nor frankly, representing the American people,” Mohler said. “We’re there in the name of Christ. Christianity is trans-ethnic, trans-political, trans-national. That is essential to the Christian Gospel.”

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Salvation and Scripture at heart of Iraqi missions debate, NPR program shows

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Opposing views on salvation and the authority of Scripture are at the heart of the debate over Christian mission efforts in postwar Iraq.

The differing views became clear during a recent broadcast of National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program featuring separate interviews with R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Charles Kimball, chair of the department of religion at Wake Forest University

A number of Christian groups are planning to provide humanitarian relief for the citizens of Iraq following the war. The controversy centers on whether missionaries should also take the Gospel into the predominately Muslim country.

During his interview with host Terry Gross, Mohler pointed out that Christ commanded his people to make disciples of all nations.

“(Evangelical Christians) believe He (Jesus) is the way, the truth, the life and that no one comes to the Father but by Him,” Mohler said. “Those who differ from us, from the Protestant left, for instance, have to explain how they will be faithful to the Gospel in that way.

“We do not offer Christianity as one option among many, (with) any (option) as good as any other. The Gospel tells us that Jesus is the only way.

“That’s why we are driven by a real compulsion to be obedient to the command of the Lord. And those who critique us, I wish they would be honest in telling the people in their own pews that they really do not believe that Jesus is the only way, because I think that they would find that most of the people in the pews of their churches really believe what we believe when we go into the world with the Gospel.”

Kimball, a 1975 graduate of Southern Seminary, served as director of the Middle East office of the National Council of Churches in the 1980s.

Kimball told “Fresh Air” he is opposed to efforts to tie humanitarian relief to evangelization. He says attempts to convert Muslims to the Christian faith might be viewed by the people of that country as Christian imperialism.

“In the first place, this is an area that is living with the history of the crusades and in the shadow of colonialism,” Kimball said. “It’s an area where people are already suspicious...of what U.S. intentions and U.S. motives are.

“To go into an area, especially to tie aid to some kind of proselytizing initiative, would be to fuel the worst sort of fears that this is a new kind of crusade or this really is kind of Christian imperialism.”

Following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Franklin Graham – chairman of the Christian relief agency “Samaritan’s Purse” – found himself at the center of controversy in the when he was quoted by the national press as having called Islam a “wicked religion.”
Mohler was asked if he agrees with Graham’s statement. He pointed out that any religion or belief system that leads persons away from Christ and points them to salvation through other means is evil because it destroys the soul eternally.

“I think we have to be careful because, of course, what we are not saying is that Muslims are evil or that all Muslims represent an ambition to be a terrorist or that kind of mode of life,” Mohler said.

“But we have to be honest and say, that (we) believe it is a horrible thing when one turns away from the Gospel of Christ and turns to anything else.

“And in our current context, Islam is, you might say, one of the major competitors to Christianity for the convictions and the souls of human beings around the world. So there is an opposition between Christianity and Islam and there has been for so long as Islam has existed.”

Kimball, who is also an ordained Baptist minister, said he grew up believing that Jesus was the only way to salvation but began to question this belief while in college.

The former Southern Baptist said he began to have serious questions about the veracity of Scripture, particularly regarding the first three chapters in Genesis and the differences in the accounts of the resurrection as reported by the four Gospels.

Kimball said these questions helped him to “think outside the box” of historic Christianity and to seek meaning within other faiths.

“I learned to ask questions and think for myself, to think critically and to keep asking questions and seeing out truth, both within my religious tradition and beyond,” Kimball said. “Why is it that there are 1.3 billion Muslims, who for 14-plus centuries have found meaning and been able to guide their lives on the basis of their understanding of religion?

“I think that is an important question to ask as opposed to simply saying, ‘They’re wrong because my experience is right.’ I find that to be a sort of silly and dangerous way to approach these matters.”

Mohler said it is important that the new Iraqi government establish religious liberty. Each person must have the freedom to follow his or her conscience in spiritual matters and to practice his faith of choice, he said.

Such liberty includes the freedom for Christians to proclaim the good news of Christ, Mohler said.

“I would contend, as an American who believes in religious liberty, for the right of my Jewish neighbor to practice Judaism if that is his heartfelt belief and conviction and the same for every other citizen of this nation, regardless of his or her spiritual convictions,” Mohler said.

“As Christians, we have a responsibility to share the Gospel, but we do not believe in evangelism by coercion, much less by legislation.”

Mohler said it is also important for Christians to communicate the message that missionaries are doing their work under the banner of Christ and not under the banner of the United States government. Christians are united by their relationship to Christ and not by common ethnic or national background.

“I think it is incumbent upon us to make very clear, as Christians, that we are not there in the name of the American government, nor frankly, representing the American people,” Mohler said. “We’re there in the name of Christ. Christianity is trans-ethnic, trans-political, trans-national. That is essential to the Christian Gospel.”

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More than 100 seminarians share Christ at Reaching Out 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – More than 100 students, faculty and staff at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently took the message of Jesus Christ to the city of Louisville.

Participating in a variety of projects from servant evangelism to inner city outreach, 100 students partnered with eight faculty and staff members in the first annual Reaching Out project at Southern Seminary, April 26 part of the seminary’s Great Commission week.

“To see over a hundred students and faculty come out just to go out and share the Gospel is in some ways a dream come true,” said Chuck Lawless, associate professor of evangelism and church growth and a participant in Reaching Out 2003. “It’s evidence that evangelism is catching fire on this campus.”

For Calvin Fowler, an M.Div. student from Chattanooga, Tenn., Reaching Out 2003 provided a unique opportunity to water a Gospel seed planted by a Baptist pastor nearly 60 years ago.

While doing inner city evangelism, Fowler encountered two sisters and learned that their father had been a Baptist pastor. Neither woman professed faith in Christ, but one of them still had a tract their father had given her in 1944.

“So I was able to read through the tract out loud, from 1944, and it was really cool. It had verses on how to be saved, and it was a real blessing to talk to them,” Fowler said.

Through encounters like Fowler’s, Reaching Out 2003 participants distributed over 1,000 tracts, New Testaments, and copies of the “Jesus Film,” said Twyla Fagan, director of Great Commission ministries and coordinator of Reaching Out 2003.

Lynn Robinson, whose husband is an M.Div. student, discovered that in some cases these tracts have an immediate impact.

When one conversation did not present Robinson with an opportunity to share the Gospel, she left a tract and a Bible with the man to whom she was talking. Walking by the man’s house several minutes later, she found him intently studying the tract.

“We went on our way, and a little while later we come back, and he was sitting on the front porch of his apartment reading the tract and the Bible. We asked him how it was going, and he said it was ‘good,’” Robinson said.

Matthew Spradlin, an M.Div. student from Bakersfield, Calif., had the opportunity to lead two people to Christ while doing door-to-door visitation. At one house, Spradlin discovered a couple who was eager to hear the Gospel.

“They were a family that had been to church,” he said. “They just didn’t know the Gospel or how to be saved and have a relationship with Christ. So we shared with them, and at the end they said they would like to pray with us to accept Christ. So we got to listen to them ask Christ to come into their lives.”

Along with the 100 students, six professors attended Reaching Out 2003. For Larry Purcell, associate professor of leadership and church ministry, the event serves as a necessary reminder that the aim of seminary teaching is ultimately to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

“One of the things that drives me at times is that as much as we teach in the white ivory towers of education and academia, so often we have to get out where people are in the kingdom and to find out what it’s like in the market place because that impacts the way I deal with people here and the way I teach as well,” Purcell said.

Fagan dubbed Reaching Out 2003 a major success.

“Reaching Out 2003, for a first time event, was very successful,” she said. “We had over 100 people participating, and many lives were touched. I just couldn’t be more pleased.”

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Youth ministers must produce disciples, student minister says

LOUSIVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Youth ministry must move from merely making converts to growing disciples of Jesus Christ, said youth minister Rob Shelton.

For Shelton, this truth has meant investing 19 years as minister of students at Parkhills Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. In those 19 years, Shelton has led students at Parkhills take part in-depth Bible studies, participate in intensive discipleship groups, and read college-level books on the Christian worldview, he said at a youth ministry conference at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., April 15.

Making disciples, Shelton said, means helping youth understand that the Christian life involves more than just going to heaven when they die. Rather, it is about living a kingdom-focused life on earth and being the church in a lost world.

“The ministry itself is built around making disciples,” Shelton said. “The first step in discipleship is becoming a convert, but that’s not the end step. That’s not the thing we’re aiming at. We’re aiming at making disciples with the first step being to deal with the sin in your life and repent as Christ commands so that you can follow Him.”

To help other youth ministers produce disciples effectively, Shelton reflected on his own experience and cited four concepts that a youth minister must contemplate.

First, a youth minister must evaluate his role as a pastor.

“What does it mean for me to be a pastor?” he said. “I came to a stunning realization that I will be judged by Almighty God for what I produce. I’m going to be judged for what I do and how I do it and for what I’ve done to train these students who have been placed in my charge.”

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 3, Shelton reminded youth ministers of their responsibility to build upon the foundation of the Gospel in students’ lives.

“The foundation’s laid and I’m supposed to build on that foundation, and I can choose what I’m building,” he said. “And it came to my attention that I better make sure I’m not producing stubble and straw and hay because the fire’s going to come in these kid’s lives.

“It’s going to come when they leave the walls of the church. It’s going to come when they go to college. And I’m going to be judged for how I’ve prepared them to be the church in the world,” said Shelton.

Second, a youth minister must reflect on his methodology. Too often, Shelton said, youth ministers focus on acting youthful to the exclusion of fulfilling their pastoral roles.

A youth minister’s primary task is to produce active followers of Christ, he said. Yet many youth ministers present the Scriptures such that students view the Christian life merely as a safeguard against going to hell, he said.

“I could fill a room, and I could get converts, but there were very few people who were following Christ,” he said. “They were just converts. That kind of struck me. I was presenting Christianity as a present for those seeking postmortem bliss. That’s how I was presenting it. There was no understanding of why Christianity was relevant now.

“Given the task, I changed how we presented what Christianity is. We’re still presenting the Gospel, but in a fashion that will motivate wanting to be a follower of Christ.”

Third, a youth minister must implement a specific plan for the task of disciple-making. More specifically, he must consider whether his current methods of teaching are compatible with producing disciples.

By using mass media and images from popular culture as teaching tools, youth ministers often inadvertently portray the Gospel as a commodity to be consumed rather than truth to be obeyed, said Shelton.

“I had to evaluate popular culture because I found that I was merely aping what was going on in the culture in order to try to teach how to be a disciple,” said Shelton. “I basically came to the conclusion that I couldn’t possibly produce the kind of disciples that are needed using the tools I was using.”

Fourth, a youth minister must know the final goal of ministry.

If you don’t know the goal of ministry, “then you’re just going to spin your wheels and go nuts,” he said.

“The goal in producing disciples is holiness. We’re to be a holy people. That word’s never emphasized any more, is it? We want to be relevant. We want to be creative. We want to be fun. We want to be all those things, but we are called to holiness. I keep that in mind all the time.”

Ultimately, leading teenagers toward holiness will cost a youth minister tremendous time and energy. But that investment will produce a glorious result one day, Shelton said.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “You’re going to stick out, but I think when you stand before the judgment seat one day, it will be worth it.”

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Importance of missions task focus of SBTS commissioning service

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Southern Baptist Theological Seminary commissioned three families for career foreign missions service and nearly two dozen others for short-term stints during chapel service in late April.

The group commissioned by seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. included a number of Southern Seminary students who will plant churches in six states and Canada through the school’s “Nehemiah Project.” Participating students will plant churches in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia.

Two short-term groups composed of Southern Seminary students will take the Gospel abroad this summer, with 13 going to Poland and 11 to Moscow.

“We pray God will bring glory to His name through the salvation of sinners in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ through the planting of churches and the establishment of Gospel witness,” Mohler said during the commissioning prayer.

After reading from Romans 10, Mohler pointed to verse 17 as a pivotal reminder that saving faith comes by hearing the proclaimed Word of God. The verse is vital because many in the modern-day church argue that salvation comes through means other than the preaching of the Gospel, Mohler said.

“Scripture is very clear that faith comes by hearing and not just by auditory response,” Mohler said.

“(Faith comes) by the hearing of the Gospel, by the hearing (of its) measured content. Thus, when we are commissioned to take the Gospel, to make disciples, to preach and to teach and to witness to all nations, we understand it is because, even as it is promised, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.”

Believers bear witness to the saving power of the Gospel and demonstrate the necessity of proclaiming it to the nations, Mohler said.

“We who are among the redeemed are living evidence of the fact that God does save,” he said. “And we are about the task of faithfulness in taking the Gospel, knowing that God is mighty to save.”

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Mohler: Theological education must be built upon truth of Scripture

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – A true theological institution is built upon an indestructible foundation of the absolute truth of God’s Word, R. Albert Mohler Jr., told The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees Tuesday afternoon in marking his 10th anniversary as president of the school.

There are currently two models of theological education, one that holds to the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and one that rejects it in deference to the wisdom of the world, Mohler said, addressing the annual spring meeting of the trustee board. Southern stands boldly upon the authority of Scripture, he said.

Mohler was elected Southern seminary’s ninth president in March of 1993. Under his leadership, the seminary has been transformed into a conservative, confessional, evangelical institution that holds to the inspiration and authority of Scripture and is accountable to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“In the world of theological today, there is a polarization,” he said. “There are two different visions of theological education. If you were to go to a national listing of all the divinity schools, theological seminaries—freestanding and denominational—you get a list and look at them, and you say, ‘these schools must be about the same thing.

“They are accredited by the same agency, they have in common either the word ‘divinity’ or ‘theological seminary,’ they must certainly be about the same thing.’ That is profoundly wrong. In fact, that is an error that is not only evidence of confusion, but the promise of tremendous destruction in the vision of theological education.”

He compared these opposing visions to opposing groups of biologists, one that believes in cell theory and one that does not, or to groups of physicists, one that believes in gravity and one that does not, and to groups of doctors, one that asserts the existence of germs and one that denies them.

“Between those two polarities, there is an enormous antagonism,” Mohler said.

The wide gulf between the contrasting groups illustrates the deep differences between theological seminaries that believe the Bible to be the Word of God and those that believe the Bible to be a culturally-bound artifact, Mohler said.

“Imagine you had a group of theologians, some of them believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and others do not,” he said. “You have an incredible antagonism.

“Some believe that the Bible is the Word of God and bears God’s own authority as His self-revelation and others believe that it is the written record of religious persons throughout an evolutionary process coming to god-consciousness. There is a radical antagonism between those two understandings.”

Mohler identified six non-negotiable blocks upon which a true theological institution must build: truth, theology, trust, testimony of Scripture, and the task of ministry assigned to the church. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone for this foundation, he said.
All six have been foundational in Southern Seminary’s turnaround over the past 10 years, he said.

For example, the inspiration of Scripture, a biblical understanding of theology, and a focus on teaching them fervently, are pivotal among the building blocks for Southern Seminary, he said. Many so-called theological schools today teach little to no theology, but theology should drive every aspect of a divinity school, Mohler said.

“Everything had better be theological about a theological school,” he said.

“This ought to be the one place where the language of theology, the discipline of theology, the worldview of God’s truth set out in its comprehensive form on the basis of biblical revelation out to be the driving impulse of who we are, what we do, what we teach, who we hire, and what we are all about.

“If theology is not central to everything about a theological seminary, in the end it won’t be central to anything in a theological seminary.”

Mohler said it is inconceivable that a theological school would reject the inspiration and authority of the Word of God and still believe it has anything to say in preparing ministers for work in local churches.

“I do not understand why you would be about the task of theological education if you do not believe the Bible is the Word of God,” he said. “I do not understand why you would go and spend three years to get a master of divinity degree if you do not believe that God has spoken to us and we have this Word.

“I cannot imagine that churches would support a theological institution that isn’t sure what the Gospel is. And you cannot be sure of what the Gospel is unless you are sure of what the Gospel is not.”

Southern must continue to build upon these blocks because they represent absolute truth, but also because they point to a trust between the seminary and its denomination, churches, students, and faculty.

Mohler pointed out that many of Southern Seminary’s present faculty members left safe and secure jobs in other institutions to come to Southern even while the seminary was in turmoil during the changes of the 1990s because they believed the vision of the new administration.

Many students also trusted that vision before it was fully realized and came to Southern, and church members continued giving of their resources, Mohler said.

“This word ‘trust’ is of incredible importance to me,” Mohler said. “You (the trustee board) have entrusted so much to me and to those who have come with me and those who the Lord added in the years to come.

“A denomination (has also) trusted all of us. Behind that denomination are thousands of churches. You look at those churches and there are millions of faithful Christians, most of whom will never set foot on this campus, many of whom aren’t sure exactly how theological education works, yet they contribute their money. They give of their funds because they trust that we will (use) the resources given to us (to carry out) the mission given to us.”

Mohler said all who have been involved in the school’s amazing turnaround over the decade must remember that it ultimately it has been the sovereign work of God.

“There is the danger, of course, to think that we have done this,” Mohler said. “And that’s why an anniversary like this is so meaningful, but is also dangerous. This is God’s doing. This is about God’s priorities, God’s church, God’s determination to make His name great. God has allowed us to have a part in this.”

In seminary business:

* The board extended tenure to three faculty members. Charles E. Lawless, Jr. was elected associate professor of evangelism and church growth. George H. Martin was elected professor of Christian missions. Both have served as professors for several years in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at Southern Seminary. The board also elected Robert A. Vogel as professor of Christian preaching. Vogel currently serves at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and will join the Southern faculty in the fall.

* Trustees approved a $25.4 million dollar budget for 2003-2004, representing an 8.8 percent increase. The increase is particularly good news given the fact that many other institutions are cutting their budgets, Mohler said.

* Mohler announced the addition to the faculty of Ken Fentress as assistant professor of Old Testament. Fentress presently serves as pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Lisbon, Md. He will join the faculty in the fall.

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