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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Mohler’s 10th anniversary: ‘A man who did not run’

In early 1993, Rick White and six other members of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s search committee prayed together in a south Florida hotel room regarding who would succeed the retiring Roy Honeycutt as seminary president.

White said God led them all to agree on one name, that of a 33-year-old journalist/theologian: R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Seminary trustees later affirmed the committee’s choice and elected Mohler to lead the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship theological institution.

In a decade under Mohler’s leadership, Southern Seminary has been transformed into one of the leading conservative theological institutions in the world.

“We had no doubt that God led us to Dr. Al Mohler to become the ninth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” White said, during a ceremony celebrating Mohler’s tenth anniversary as president. Current and former trustees, including former board chairmen gathered with the seminary community to mark the occasion.

White was the first chairman of the board of trustees to serve under Mohler. He is a graduate of the seminary and is the only trustee chairman to have served three terms.

Ten years after hiring Mohler, then a young editor for the Georgia Baptist newspaper, the “Christian Index,” White is thankful God raised up Mohler to lead Southern Seminary and describes him as a man who did not shrink back from the mission even in the midst of the cauldron of controversy.

“There is a line in (a) song that reminds me a lot of Al Mohler,” White said. “It says, ‘A hero is a scared man who doesn’t run.’ And when I think about the history of our transition and seeing what has happened today, (and) I look at the life of a young Christian leader; obviously, there were some scary moments.

But (he is) a man who did not run and God has honored (that) and we are now recipients of that.”

Southern Seminary’s Executive Cabinet presented Mohler – a voracious reader with a personal library numbering thousands of volumes – with a rare 1641 edition of “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.” Trustees gave Mohler a 1608 Geneva Bible and presented the family with a trip to Europe. Mohler’s wife Mary and children, Katie, 14, and Christopher, 11 were also honored at the ceremony.

Mohler faced difficult opposition as he led the conservative resurgence at Southern Seminary, particularly in the early years. Still, Mohler said he would repeat the process, painful though it was, all over again.

“These have been the most incredible 10 years of my life,” Mohler said. “And if I had to do it all over again, I would. I’m not sure I could have said that at every single point, to be very honest. But on the other side, it is sheer grace and I believe and pray and fervently hope it is to God’s glory that this institution is what it is.”

Mohler said he has had the rare opportunity to lead an institution through a dramatic change that could only have been accomplished by God’s hand.

“It is hard to imagine that this would have happened,” Mohler said. “It runs counter to the wisdom of the world. It is not something that you expect in an institution’s life. This kind of change does not happen and this kind of new opportunity is rarely granted.

Now, 10 years after the reformation began, Southern Seminary is experiencing remarkable growth, with enrollment well over 3,000.

This runs contrary to the wisdom of the world, which says that even to attempt such a change risks scaring many persons away, he said. Still, God’s truth as revealed in Scripture overcomes the risk and draws many to an institution that stands faithfully upon its authority, Mohler said.

“You (do) scare many people away,” he said. “But you look on this campus and at this faculty and the students and the trustees and the others who are gathered here, and you will see how God’s truth is like a magnet pulling persons who love God and His truth to a place that will take such things with seriousness.”

The president also expressed gratitude for his colleagues in the administration and especially for his wife and children.

“I thought I knew what marriage was all about,” President Mohler said. “We had our 10th anniversary as we were coming into this office. But I didn’t know anything about marriage until we spent 10 years here together.

“I discovered that this woman would stand with me through thick and thin. And I just cannot tell you what she gives of her heart and life to this institution and to me. All I can say is I would not be here without her. This institution would not be what it is without her heart and prayer and support and love.”

Mohler says that, though he set timetables and goals during the early days of his administration, he ultimately depends upon the sovereignty of God in carrying out the task of ministry through Southern Seminary.

“I am completely dependent upon the providence and sovereignty of God and that God is going to do things to His glory in His way and is going to unfold gradually how all this is going to take place and come to pass,” Mohler said.

Mohler believes a century’s worth of work has been accomplished in a decade at the seminary. Now, at age 43, he says the challenge is to continue to move the seminary forward, beyond the turmoil of the early years.

“What a stewardship is ours. And the great lesson to that is, to put it as simply, if not very profoundly, we can’t mess this up. Too high a price has been paid. Too rare an opportunity has been granted.”

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Iraqi relief controversy a clash of worldviews, Mohler tells TIME

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) –Conflicting worldviews are at the heart of the controversy surrounding Christian relief efforts in Iraq said R. Albert Mohler Jr. in an interview this week with Time magazine.

The national newsmagazine posted the interview with Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on its website Wednesday (www.time.com). TIME reporter Broward Liston interviewed Mohler on the issues of humanitarian aid and Christian missions to Iraq.

Mohler contrasted the way the secular and Christian worlds look at the Iraqi people, most of whom are Muslim.

The secular world tends to look at Islam as a function of Iraq’s ethnicity, Mohler pointed out, but Christians must consider them in a different light. Secularists consider attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity as an insult to their ethnicity, a view opposite that of Christianity, he said.

“But Christianity is a trans-ethnic faith, which understands that Christianity is not particular to or captured by any ethnicity, but seeks to reach all lost persons,” Mohler said.

“The secular world tends to look at Iraq and say, ‘well, it’s Muslim, and that’s just a fact,’ and any Christian influence would just be a form of Western imperialism. The Christian has to look at Iraq and see persons desperately in need of the Gospel. Compelled by the love and command of Christ, the Christian will seek to take that Gospel in loving and sensitive, but very direct, ways to the people of Iraq.”

Mohler sees another critical issue at stake within Operation Iraqi Freedom: religious liberty. Mohler said he would be sorely disappointed if America succeeds in the war but fails to establish a regime that considers religious liberty a priority.

He referred to the rebuilding of Japan after World War II as a direct parallel to the model Christians would like to see take root in Iraq. Douglas MacArthur, the de facto ruler of Japan following the war, introduced Western concepts such as religious freedom and tolerance that were new to the country.

“It would be an appalling tragedy if America were to lead this coalition and send young American men and women into battle, to expend such military effort, to then leave in place a regime that would lack respect for religious liberty.

“I think one of the major Christian concerns, and one of my personal concerns, is to see religious liberty (take a prominent position in) the vision of freedom that America holds up to the world.”

Mohler said the establishment of religious freedom in Iraq would clearly set it apart from its neighboring countries in the Middle East.

“No one is going to flip a switch and make Iraq a Christian nation,” Mohler said. “America is not a Christian nation; it is a mission field. Conversion can’t come at the point of a gun. I think this is a true test, in a postmodern, post-Cold War age, of how America is going to establish a model for the recovery of freedom.

“Religious freedom has to be at the center and foundation of that freedom. If Iraq were to be established in a way that religious freedom was honored, it would stand out from its neighbors in the area.”

Time reporter Liston wrote “To many, the image of American missionaries lined up at the border of Iraq waiting to render aid once the shooting stops, looks eerily like a second invasion. Or at least a profoundly destabilizing force, an army prepared to act on the inflammatory words lobbed between evangelical Christian ministers and the anti-American Muslim clerics.”

Mohler says that impression is false; Christians are merely acting in accord with a longstanding history of providing humanitarian relief alongside Gospel missionary efforts, particularly in times of war.

As a current example, Mohler pointed to relief efforts by Samaritan’s Purse, which are ongoing in Afghanistan in the wake of recent military maneuvers there. The missionary group, led by Franklin Graham, has set up hospitals near Afghanistan.

“Christian organizations have been involved in organized relief efforts throughout the history of the United States,” Mohler said. “You can look at almost every significant military endeavor and find precedence for Christians being actively involved in relief efforts.”

Above all, Christian missions will have to exercise patience and wise stewardship in its efforts to proclaim the Gospel among the Iraqis, Mohler said. Regions that are heavily Islamic have traditionally been resistant to the Christian faith, he said.

“Very honestly, Christian efforts have found Islamic regions to be very resistant,” he said. “I would not expect that in the Islamic world there’s going to be any immediate receptivity to organized Christian efforts.

“I think this situation calls for great wisdom and responsibility on the part of Christian organizations, as well as a full measure of conviction. I think it’s going to be a very interesting process to watch.”

For the complete interview see the article at:TIME Magazine

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Dembski: Christian worldview begins with creation

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – An orthodox Christian worldview must begin with a proper biblical understanding of the doctrine of creation, William Dembski, a well-known author and teacher of intelligent design recently said at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dembski identified four biblical pillars upon which the believer must build a distinctly Christian belief system: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. If one’s understanding of human origin is faulty, then his view of the world’s fundamental problem – which the Christian sees as being sin – and the solution to it will be equally false, he said.

Dembski serves as associate research professor in conceptual foundations of science at Baylor University. He is also senior fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.

Dembski is author of numerous books including “Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology,” and “Mere Creation: Science, Faith, and Intelligent Design.” He is a leader in the intelligent design movement which seeks to demonstrate the purposeful way in which God has woven together His creation.

“There is a logic to our (Christian) worldview, to our existence, and it starts with the doctrine of creation,” Dembski said. “If we are wrong about creation, then everything else down the line is going to be wrong as well.

“Everybody has a worldview. There are really four fundamental components to a worldview. It starts with some sort of doctrine of creation or origins. Then, we must ask, ‘what is the predicament?’ Things are not all right with the world and how did that happen? For the Christian, of course, that is the doctrine of the fall.

“Then we must ask, ‘how do we get out of the predicament?’ For the Christian that’s the doctrine of redemption. Finally, we must ask, ‘where is it all going?’ For the Christian it is being redeemed and united, or reunited, with God.”

Darwinian naturalism, which asserts that humans are a product of time and chance having evolved from lower life forms over billions of years, arrives at its erroneous conclusions because it begins with the assumption that the universe has no creator, Dembski said.

Naturalism sees problems within society as arising merely from mankind’s inability to properly harness natural forces. Naturalism’s solution is to rearrange the material makeup of people through means such as drugs and behavior therapies, he pointed out.

Darwinian naturalism is taught in most high school biology classes, in most colleges and universities, and in some seminaries and religious schools, Dembski said.

Dembski used two images to illustrate the change in worldview that occurs when a person embraces Darwinian naturalism. First, he used the image of Michelangelo sculpting his famous statue of David. This picture illustrates God’s purposeful handiwork in creation, Dembski said.

“You look at nature, look at any tree, and that surpasses Michelangelo’s ‘David,’” he said. “You see an artist at work and you marvel with a sense of awe that comes from that.”

He used a second image, that of a football stadium packed with 100,000 spectators. Every member of the audience takes a penny and flips it. All whose coin comes up “tails” sit down while those whose result was “heads” remain standing. Subsequent coin flips continue until all are seated.

The laws of probability show that at least one person might be expected to have his coin land on “heads” and remain standing 17 consecutive times, said Dembski, also a mathematician.

This result would not elicit the same sort of marvel and adoration as Michelangelo’s “David” since the laws of probability predict the coin will land on “heads” 17 straight times by mere chance, Dembski said.

It demonstrates that Darwinism’s brutal “survival of the fittest” theory of human life undermines the glory of God, who is the sovereign Creator of the universe, he said.

“That is a very different reaction,” Dembski said. “You look at Michelangelo sculpting ‘David’ and that’s one reaction. You look at somebody getting 17 heads in a row in a football stadium, that’s an expected outcome, given the number of people there.

“And yet, this is precisely what Darwinism is saying: that life, the fact that (humans) are here, and all the marvelous diversity and complexity that we see in the living world is just an expected outcome of natural forces with no design behind it. It was just bound to happen.

“Natural selection is just serving to take those successful coin flips, just getting (many) heads in a row, and preserving those. And those who got tails are just going to fade away, although they don’t, as in the stadium example, sit down. Instead, they get exterminated. They are just wiped out of the gene pool. So, it’s actually a pretty brutal view of life.”

The most critical reason Dembski sees for fighting to demonstrate the falsehood of naturalism and the veracity of intelligent design, is for the glory of God.

“That is ultimately what is at stake,” he said. “These other views rob our Creator and Lord of the glory that is due Him alone.”

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Spiritual journey includes both passion and orthodoxy, Christian psychologist says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- The Christian spiritual journey must extend beyond mere doctrinal orthodoxy to passionate faith, said psychologist and author Larry Crabb.

The evangelical church has done a good job of developing biblical convictions, but it has failed to demonstrate how those convictions relate to the deepest longings of the human soul, said Crabb who lectured at the Gheens Center Family Conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., March 19.

Often, Crabb said, Christians are ill-equipped to think about such issues as their inner worlds and their own spiritual formation. The church’s success in making disciples will ultimately depend on its ability to relate truths about sin, brokenness, and mercy to deeply personal human longings.

“I believe that the core problem in the human soul is ultimately spiritual, and the ultimate problem is sin for which we’re culpable. And I believe in an ultimate truth that we neglect to our peril,” said Crabb, who is the author of such books as “Shattered Dreams,” and “The Silence of Adam.”

“But we haven’t done, in my judgment, a very good job of speaking from those convictions with a discernment that allows us to move into the deeper realities of the soul.”

To understand the depth of the spiritual journey, Crabb cited three central concepts believers must bear in mind.

First, we are passionate people. “Obedience must not be reduced to mere behavioral conformity, but obedience must become an expression of our deepest passions,” he said.

God’s commandments are not limitations on our freedom, but rather opportunities for obedience, said Crabb. And the opportunity to obey God should ignite a passion within followers of Christ.

“Maybe you need to understand the spiritual journey as a journey of passion, a journey of desire because we’re created in the image of a community of three very passionate persons.”

Second, we are culpably misdirected in our passion. Understanding the Christian life merely in terms of behavioral conformity is closely related to a shallow understanding of sin, Crabb said.

“We also, in my judgment, haven’t thought deeply enough about sin,” he said. “We’ve made the great mistake that sin has a whole lot more to do with a violation of external standards than something that happens in your deep interior world.

“Most of us think of the way we sin as going 27 miles an hour in a 20 mile an hour speed zone. We don’t have an understanding of sin that goes so deep to realize we’ve been going 200 miles an hour in a school zone. We even killed a bunch of little children in the process and that God in His justice and righteousness has every right to punish us eternally and that every minute depends entirely on His sovereign mercy.”

At times it may be difficult to adequately understand the extent of God’s pardon, but with a proper concept of sin we will passionately serve the Lord in thanks for His forgiveness, Crabb said.

Thirdly, we are isolated people. Another cause of failure in the spiritual journey is trying to live it alone. But we should understand that as beings created in the image of the Trinity, we fundamentally have a need for community, he said.

“If the church experience means no more to you than sitting in a congregation facing forward, hearing your pastor, singing the hymns and leaving, you’re an individualist. You’re not part of community,” he said.

“And if you’re not part of community in the way that God intends for us to be a part of community, you’re denying ultimate reality that God is a Trinitarian community himself and we bear the image of a community. I wonder if we’ve thought deeply enough about the spiritual journey in terms of walking together?”

In the final analysis, Crabb observed, contemplating our passion, our sin, and our isolation will drive Christians to realize that the spiritual journey is about attachment to God, not our comfort.

Life may involve suffering, but that suffering kindles our passions and drives us to God, he said.

“Suffering is a privilege,” he said. “And I don’t see how we’re going to be released in our passions to know God and be delivered from our self-centeredness and be delivered into deep community without very deep and meaningful suffering—suffering that takes away all of our sources of joy so all we have left is God.

“I’m committed to building –as best I can – a clearly evangelical basis for spiritual direction and to probe the mystery of the human soul, to understand our capacity for the passion and enjoyment of God, to understand sin as our treasonous pursuit of joy from some other source than God, and to understand what Trinitarian-like community really is so we can join each other on the journey.”

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Urban church planting transforms cities, conference speaker says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Urban church plants have the potential to transform entire cities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, said Texas-based church planter Jim Herrington.

Because of that belief, Herrington left a comfortable position as director of the Union Baptist Association in Houston to plant a church in one of the city’s most unreached areas. He began the new work in an area with a church to population ratio of 1 to 40,000, Herrington told attendees of a recent urban church planting conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

In many cases, Herrington said, church plants have already transformed whole societies for Christ. One such example is the Christian Life Church in Kampala, Uganda, which has grown from seven persons in 1995 to over 20,000 today, he said. After years of ministry, the church’s pastor, Jackson Senyonga, now prays with the Ugandan president regularly and has begun to see widespread transformation sweep over the country.

“In the cities that are being transformed, two things became very clear,” Herrington said. “One of them was that in every city that was being transformed, the whole body of Christ was working together. The other thing that was clear was that a saturation church planting movement always accompanied transformation.”

In 1995, these observations about the success of urban church plants led Herrington to begin a church plant of his own in Houston.

“God began to stir up in me this deep, burning conviction that somebody needed to go to those places and stake out some land and say, ‘The church is no longer simply going to give this over to the enemy,” he said. “We are going to stake out some ground here, and we are going to occupy this land one day at a time, one person at a time, one church at a time.’”

Thus, Herrington and his wife, Betty, sold their suburban home and moved to Houston’s Montrose area—a neighborhood with over 6,000 homeless children and an active homosexual community—to plant a church.

Soon after Herrington’s arrival in Montrose though, he realized that he was in an extreme situation demanding an innovative strategy. Eighty percent of the people in Montrose had never read a Bible, Herrington estimates. And some had never even heard the name of Jesus.

“I have people in my church who, until they came to our church, didn’t know the name of Jesus,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe you can live in this culture and have that be true, but it’s not the just one or two. There are a number of folks in the church I pastor who have never heard the name of Jesus until they came to that church.”

This radical ignorance of Christian doctrine in the community combined with a deeply embedded cynicism toward organized religion convinced Herrington that a network of house churches was the most effective way to reach Montrose.

“Unchurched people who know the church are so hostile and cynical in the community that I live in,” Herrington said. “Folks were not going to come to the traditional church. A combination of understanding our context, some conferencing that we were doing, and some people that the Lord brought to us along the way were all things that influenced and impacted the decision we made to do house churches.”

He started with just one house church, but that number quickly multiplied as Herrington began to connect with the people of the community.

“We started with one,” he said. “We went from one to two and two to three, and we have five now. We think we’re going to launch another one this summer and maybe another one in the fall.”

One of the reasons these house churches have been so successful, said Herrington, has been their ability to connect with the painful situations people are experiencing in Montrose.

“Almost everyone we’re reaching comes out of the drug, sex or alcohol culture that is Montrose,” he said. “They’re almost all poor, but they all grew up in middle class homes. They’re poor because of their drug and alcohol and sex addictions.”

As people came into his network of churches, Herrington says he started them on a plan of radical discipleship—a plan he urges all churches to follow.

“We’re trying to produce a kind of person with a Christian worldview who can live in a culture that is fallen and wicked and decadent and trying to undermine everything that Christ is about in the world today.

“If you’re not crystal clear about what you’re trying to produce when you’re making disciples, then it is pretty unlikely that they’re going to be able to stand in the face of what our culture calls them to and seduces them with.”

Regarding other church plants, Herrington urged students to “plant counter-cultural churches.”

Said Herrington, “We have got to plant churches that recognize that we live in a decadent, evil, wicked generation that is dominated by greed, manipulation, pleasure, and materialism.

“Don’t plant a church unless you plant it with the view to transformation of the city.”

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Naval chaplain ministers amid war’s individual victories and casualties

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Ron Nordan is not wielding arms on the front lines as American soldiers fight to wrench Iraq from the death-grip of a dictatorial regime.

But the U.S. Navy chaplain and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate deals daily with both victories and casualties within the lives of those who are engaging in the war.

Nordon, who holds two degrees from Southern Seminary, serves aboard the USS Camden, a ship that equips other vessels with ammunition, fuel, and food to actively engage in battle. Since the Camden left for the Gulf last July, he has witnessed 35 Christian conversions among those on board.

He averages 17 counseling sessions per week, preaches twice each Sunday, and holds Bible studies each Wednesday. Yet, his toughest task has been delivering the news to a female soldier that her 2 ½-year-old daughter had been murdered back in the states.

“I spent over a half an hour in prayer before going to find her and telling her the tragic news,” he said in an e-mail interview.

“Looking back over the whole situation, I can see that the Holy Spirit stepped right in, giving me the words to say and guiding my thoughts and actions. Within eight hours, she was on her way home, which is highly unusual given the fact we were in the Persian Gulf at the time.”

While he has seen numerous conversions and “rededications,” Nordan says the USS Camden is a mission field.

“For about 20 percent of our ship, this time has provided a challenge to improve our relationship with God and with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ,” Nordan said. “Unfortunately, I would estimate that over 65 percent on our ship are not born-again believers.

“It is a challenge for every born-again believer to work and live in an environment where a Christian is in the minority. Pray for those Christians on board that they would continue to grow closer to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that they would effectively witness both in word and deed.”

Nordan received two degrees from Southern Seminary. The Washington, D.C. native graduated in 1992 with a master of church music degree and again in 1998 with a master of divinity in theology. While working on the second degree, Nordan served as a grader for preaching professor Hershael York. He joined the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps in 2002.

There are concerns both without and within the USS Camden for Nordan. While the ship is not launching Tomahawk missiles or scrambling F-16s on bombing missions, the presence of floating mines, enemy air and boat assaults are ever-present dangers, he said.

Among Nordon’s chief concerns – and prayer requests – is for the marital relationships of his shipmates. Several marriages have begun to crumble beneath the immense weight of the long-term physical separation of soldier and spouse.

“The stress of having been out here for so long with no set return date has take its toll on every person aboard,” Nordan said. “To date, there are at least 10 marriages that are heading for divorce when we return. There are bound to be more challenges for our married couples to face, not to mention what our single sailors will be going through.”

Nordan has been away from his family for almost nine months and is not certain when he will return home. He said God has given him the grace to endure these lonely months. Consistent communication with his wife and kids helps, he said.

Nordan speaks with his wife, Cindy, 3 to 4 times per week by phone and exchanges e-mail with her several times each day. He also swaps e-mail with his children, Grace, 10, and Timothy, 7, numerous times during the week. Cindy Nordan works as a music teacher outside of Bremerton, Washington, where the family lives.

“My wife does an outstanding job with both of our children, while at the same time affirming me in my ministry and letting our children know that their father loves them very much,” Nordan said. “I am very blessed. God has brought us close even in the midst of this separation.”

One great source of encouragement for Nordan has been the response of chapel attendees to his expository preaching. Careful verse-by-verse teaching from Scripture is a new concept even to soldiers who have attended church for years, he said.

“Several shipmates shared that they had gone to church their whole lives without hearing a sermon that came from the Bible,” he said. “I thank God that He has me here at this time and in this place. That really demonstrates the great truth of the power of God’s Word.”

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Worship leader urges balance in contemporary praise and worship

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Worship leader Bob Kauflin thinks Christians have reacted too extremely to the contemporary praise and worship movement.

Instead of either wholeheartedly embracing praise and worship music or completely rejecting it, Kauflin encourages a middle approach: Appreciate the benefits of contemporary praise and worship, but recognize that some concerns accompany those benefits.

Kauflin says such an approach may ultimately allow worshipers to learn a new vocabulary for declaring God’s glory.

Kauflin serves as director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, an organization that seeks to establish and nurture local churches. He recently spoke at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His lecture was part of the seminary’s Institute for Christian Worship speaker series.

Urging churches to consider the benefits of contemporary praise and worship, Kauflin said, “Worship is not about what’s comfortable for me. Worship is about learning new ways to express God’s glory.”

While not advocating exclusive use of contemporary praise and worship music, Kauflin cited several positives emerging from the contemporary praise and worship movement. Among them:

* Praise and worship music has renewed a God-focused emphasis in the Christian music industry.”Certainly entertainment is still a big part of CCM [Contemporary Christian Music], but you hear more talk about people wanting to listen to music to connect with God, to experience intimacy with God, to encounter God.” One example of this trend, he said, is the overwhelming sales of recent worship albums such as Third Day’s “Offerings,” and Michael W. Smith’s “Worship,” he said.

* Praise and worship music is helping to revitalize worship services. In many churches, Kauflin said, praise and worship music has helped people to gain “a new awareness of God’s presence, a new appreciation for the words they are singing, and a new experience of intimacy with God as a result of just singing songs that allowed them to say these things.”

* More styles of music are being used to praise God, reaching a new generation. “Every generation will in some way reflect its own voice in the worship of God. Now it shouldn’t do that alone. It shouldn’t do that exclusively, but we should welcome new expressions,” he said.

Yet despite these benefits, the contemporary praise and worship movement has brought some negative features to the arena of Christian music, Kauflin admits. Negatives include:

* Contemporary praise and worship may cause us to think that worship is equivalent to music.God certainly values our musical expressions of worship, but true worship is much broader than music, he said. ”God loves music. He wants us to praise His name with music...but worship has to do with what rules our hearts and desires, what takes up our time, what we think about when we don’t have to think about anything. That’s where we see worship,” Kauflin said. “It’s reflected not just in what we sing, but in the way we speak think and act.” Because so many contemporary uses of the word ‘worship’ refer to music exclusively—such as worship CDs, the worship station and worship bands—we may gain a warped perspective of the term’s true meaning, he said.

* With the contemporary praise and worship movement, there may be a temptation to think that worship is somehow new or has finally become genuine. According to Kauflin, every generation of Christians tends to think that its music has reached an unsurpassed level of genuineness. But such a thought is simply inaccurate, he said. “What a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have worshiped God probably more sincerely than you ever did, before you were ever born. There’s that tendency to think that because the style of music is new that the worship must be better, and we just want to be careful here.”

* Given the fact that worship songs are highly memorable, musicians can become our primary theologians. Many contemporary worship songs stick in our minds because of their catchy tunes, said Kauflin. But some of these songs may not accurately transmit the message of Scripture.

“Just because a song has a catchy chorus and is easy to learn doesn’t mean it’s good theology,” he said.

Ultimately, Kauflin concluded that Christians should utilize contemporary worship music but take care to ensure the biblical faithfulness of their worship.

“Look for songs that contain solid biblical truths, that inspire a passionate response,” he said.

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