Christian discipleship demands political engagement, Moore says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seminarians celebrate missions partnership with African worship service

LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Students and faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently gathered for a traditional African worship service that included African praise music, testimonies from African students and Scripture readings in four different languages.

The worship service, led by African seminary students, took place Sept. 3 as part of Southern’s East Africa Missions Partnership Kickoff week. The partnership will involve Southern Seminary working with the East Africa region of the International Mission Board over the next three years in such tasks as leadership training for African pastors, evangelism and researching unreached people groups.

“This is a grand celebration, not only of our partnership with the Eastern Africa region, but also just a great time to worship and glorify God’s name together,” said Twyla Fagan, director of Great Commission Ministries at Southern Seminary.

Preaching from Acts 11:4-14, master of divinity student Patrick Whyte challenged Christians to cast aside cultural prejudices and obey God’s command to proclaim the Gospel in all nations.

“Evangelism is an international work,” said Whyte, a native of Nigeria. “It is a task that has been given to the church of Jesus Christ internationally. There is no one nation on the face of this earth, no matter how gifted, no matter how resourceful, no matter how hard-working, no matter how industrious they are, that has the capacity to fully evangelize the rest of the world.”

If Christians are to proclaim the Gospel to the world, there are three attitudes they must adopt, Whyte said. First, Christians must trust that God is providentially orchestrating their lives to fulfill the Great Commission.

“We must trust that God is providentially orchestrating events,” he said. “This partnership, this desire to go to East Africa, is not a mistake. It is not just one man conniving or orchestrating something somewhere and just excited about executing his own project. No my brethren, I tell you that in the very heart of God, God saw this [partnership] way before the foundation of the world.”

Second, Whyte said Christians must evaluate their own inhibitions about missions and evangelism. Especially in America, Christians can get caught up in materialism and feel reserved about missions opportunities that take them out of a comfortable routine, he said.

“Nothing can be hidden from God. So if you have a reservation tonight, I’m not asking you to be open to me. I’m asking you to be open to God. The psalmist writes, ‘Search me and know my heart.’ And now we pray that your sincere prayer tonight would be, ‘Lord search me and know my heart,’” Whyte said.

Third, Christians must be confident that the outcome of their missions endeavors will be a harvest of souls. Just as God allowed Peter to lead Cornelius to faith in Christ, said Whyte, God orchestrates opportunities for believers today to lead others to Christ.

“There is a Cornelius somewhere that God has prepared, and there’s a Peter somewhere that God has prepared,” Whyte said. “God has divinely orchestrated that you have a call and God has orchestrated that you have the message.”

Approximately 195 million people in eastern Africa are waiting to hear the Gospel, he said. “Is that reason for us to go? I will let you think about it.”

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SBTS mourns death of new student

LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Timothy Bononi became a Christian in 2001 and soon sensed that God had orchestrated his life in a way that had prepared him to serve as a hospital chaplain.

But on Sept. 4, the 30-year-old Springfield, Ill., died of heart failure at the outset of his first semester as a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Bononi collapsed while touring an apartment complex on the school’s campus and was rushed to nearby Baptist East Hospital where he died some hours later.

During a chapel service Tuesday, Seminary President R. Al bert Mohler, Jr., read Bononi’s words from an autobiographical essay he had submitted as part of the admissions requirements for Southern Seminary. Mohler said Bononi’s death should serve as a reminder to all of the brevity of life.

“I can imagine that some very close to Timothy, some looking back after his death, would say, ‘Well, isn’t it a shame that he picked up everything he had and went off to a distant place and began a program of study that he was able to fulfill with only a few days?’” said Mohler.

“There is no tragedy in that. When the Lord called him, the Lord found him pursuing the calling that He had planted in his heart. Life is a vapor. We know not the number of our days. But brothers and sisters, let us be determined to be found faithful when our day shall come, doing what the Lord has called us to do.”

Bononi was born with a congenital heart defect and had battled heart disease for much of his life. Doctors performed open heart surgery on him for the first time at 11 months of age and again at 14.

Bononi was in and out of the hospital with various complications over the years, but wrote of how God had shown him grace through the heart condition and had used it ultimately to draw him to salvation.

He served as an altar boy in the Roman Catholic Church as a teen, but began to see the errors of Catholicism by reading Scripture while in the hospital as a young adult. His brother-in-law, a devout Christian, helped him to a clearer understanding of the Gospel. At age 27, Bononi trusted Christ for his salvation.

In his essay, Bononi said that though his own physical heart was defective, God had given him a new spiritual heart. He believed God had called him to the hospital chaplaincy because he had spent so much time in the hospital as a patient. All that was missing was a theological education.

Bononi began at the seminary in late August. He was enrolled in the master of arts in Christian Counseling program.

“The fact is that Timothy Bononi did not even finish the first few weeks of class,” Mohler said. “But brothers and sisters, his theological education is now complete. And [it is] complete in a way that none of us will know until we also meet our Lord face to face.”

Bononi graduated from the University of Illinois at Springfield in 1995 with a degree in history. Prior to his move to Louisville, he worked four years in the Kids Care program for the State of Illinois.

Bononi’s funeral was held Tuesday morning at Springfield Bible Church. He is survived by his father, David, and stepmother, Jan, of Springfield, along with sisters Debra Booker of Riverton, Ill., and Tracy Geist of Springfield.

Doug Walker, senior vice president of institutional relations, preached the chapel sermon from Phil. 1, answering the question, ‘What happens to us when we die?” Walker preached in the place of scheduled speaker, Johnny Hunt, who was unable to preach due to the death of his father. Hunt was scheduled for a one-day conference on Sept. 8 which was also cancelled.

Walker pointed out that death is the consequence of sin and is unnatural. But for the believer, death is the beginning of life in the presence of the Lord.

“That’s a great thought and a comforting thought,” Walker said. “And as you and I think about our own deaths, as we deal with the deaths of our loved ones, as we minister to those who are facing death, for the believer, the great hope and assurance is that the moment we die, we are immediately with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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Southern Seminary forges missions partnership with east Africa

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has forged a three-year partnership with International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries in East Africa that will involve seminarians in proclaiming the Gospel to unreached people groups in the region.

Officials from both the seminary and IMB signed the partnership during a Sept. 2 chapel service. Through the partnership, students and faculty members will assist IMB missionaries in East Africa with research and Gospel proclamation efforts in the region over the next three years.

“Southern Seminary has a goal to get 10 percent of the faculty and 10 percent of the students involved in overseas missions and preferably to East Africa,” said Twyla Fagan, director of Great Commission Ministries at Southern Seminary.

“Among the things we will do is send research groups to research people groups. The partnership will involve sending people to unreached people groups and seeking bridges to preach the Gospel to them. Those involved will better get to know the culture there.”

The East African region includes 144 nations that contain more than 100,000 people. Of those nations, 105 have no Gospel witness, John Sapp, IMB’s regional director for East Africa told the chapel audience.

The IMB is focusing on those 105 nations. The region includes Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rawanda, Burundi, the Congo and southern Sudan.

“We’re not among them and we don’t know their language, their way of life, or their worldview,” Sapp said. “I hope in the next three years those nations become part of your vocabulary and part of your understanding of what God is up to in that corner of the world.”

Southern Seminary marked the partnership Sept. 2-5 with a celebration that included a replica of an African village on the seminary lawn, an African worship service and various African-themed exhibits.

“Today is one of those historic opportunities for Southern Seminary as we are connecting to the purpose for which this institution was established, even as we are making a new partnership for the future,” Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. said.

“In 1859, when Southern Seminary first opened its doors, [founding] President James Petigru Boyce stated [that] the ambition of this institution [is] to water the world with the Gospel.

“One of our responsibilities as a school is to seek not only to talk about missions and to teach missions, but to be involved in missions at the present and we are very excited today to be starting something new.”

One area in which students will be particularly valuable is leadership training, Fagan said. Seminarians will teach indigenous leaders of churches already planted by missionaries.

Sapp urged seminarians to gain encouragement from believers in East Africa who continually face persecution from other religions such as Islam. The Muslim faith dominates parts of Africa’s east coast, including Tanzania.

“I hope you get to meet some of the believers who are now paying a dear price for naming Jesus Christ as the Lord of their hearts, who are wanting to follow Him in believer’s baptism,” Sapp said. “[They] live in a community that is 99 percent Muslim [located] on the coast of Tanzania.

“I’ll guarantee you those folks, as they go to bed at night, know what the term ‘fear’ means. I believe as you and I continue to be obedient to God’s call upon our lives, we’ve got to remember that what He gives is peace that can overcome the fear that the world wants to hand out.”

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Seminary class experiences ‘ministry evangelism’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- Fourteen students from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently learned firsthand how meeting physical needs and proclaiming the Gospel can work hand-in-hand to lead people to Jesus Christ.

The students traveled to the First Baptist Church of Leesburg, Fla., July 7-11 as part of a Southern Seminary class entitled, “Ministry Evangelism.” During their time in Leesburg, the students observed the extensive network of ministries in place at FBC—which includes men’s and women’s shelters, a crisis pregnancy center, a benevolence center, a medical clinic, a children’s home, and many others.

They also attended classroom sessions co-taught by Don Cox, associate professor of evangelism and church growth at Southern and Charles Roesel, pastor of FBC of Leesburg.

Participating in several of the church’s more than 70 ministries gave students the opportunity to learn how social ministry can provide an entr...e for the Gospel, Cox said.

“I think for the students, it helps them begin to see that as we seek to share the Gospel with people in the world that there’s a great need to meet the personal physical needs that people may have,” he said.

“The main learning objectives were to form a biblical foundation for doing ministry evangelism and to learn how to do ministry evangelism practically by looking at not only the reading of the class, but also actually experiencing a model where that’s being done on our country.”

Gayle Fee, a master of divinity student from Rochester, N.Y., saw firsthand how meeting physical needs opens a door for the Gospel when she got the opportunity to share Christ with a client at the church’s crisis pregnancy center.

Two weeks before Fee arrived in Leesburg, the woman had given birth to a child she might have aborted had it not been for the counseling she received through the church. When the woman returned to the crisis pregnancy center with her two-week-old baby, Fee shared the Gospel with both the woman and the center’s director.

“We had the opportunity to share the Gospel with a woman who had chosen not to abort her baby, and we were able to hold the baby and just see the fruit of that ministry,” Fee said.

Ministries like the crisis pregnancy center exemplify what Cox labeled, “ministry evangelism.”

“Ministry evangelism is simply caring for persons in the name of Jesus Christ,” he said. “It is meeting persons at the point of their need and ministering to them physically and spiritually.

“Ministry evangelism is sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people as we meet them at the point of their need, which can be often a physical need.”

Over the years, First Baptist of Leesburg has developed a reputation for successful ministry evangelism.

When Roesel arrived in Leesburg 26 years ago, the church averaged approximately 300 people on Sunday mornings and Roesel had contacted every person on the church’s prospect list within six months.

Then the church initiated a number of ministries designed to meet physical needs in the community, and the congregation exploded to more than 7,000 members. Today Roesel says that he never runs out of prospects.

For David Fee, a master of divinity student from Rochester, N.Y., Roesel’s expertise in ministry evangelism served as an invaluable educational tool.

“From a pastor’s perspective, what was really nice about this trip was Dr. Charles Roesel,” David Fee said. “He’s been in the ministry for 50 years, so we had an extended amount of time where people fired off just any and all practical questions they had about ministry. He covered a lot of things, and he had a lot of great things to say.”

According to Cox, the class was such a success that there may be similar travel classes offered in the future.

“One thing the students saw was some of the people who have actually been led to Christ in the ministry,” Cox said.

“It was fulfilling to know that the Lord can use you to encourage those guys that are there.”

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The Battle of Montgomery: Where Should Christians Stand?

Judge Roy Moore, Alabama’s now-suspended Chief Justice, has at least two major weapons in his arsenal as he fights the Battle of Montgomery--a set of powerful arguments and all the right enemies. What began as a skirmish in the nation’s culture war has now expanded into a full-blown battle, with both sides seemingly prepared to dig trenches and fight to the finish.

The controversy began long before Moore was elected the state’s chief jurist in 2000. During his days as a circuit court judge in Gadsden, Moore had placed a plaque listing the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. A legal challenge led to a court order requiring Judge Moore to remove the Ten Commandments. The judge refused and only the intervention of the governor prevented further action.

Alabamians knew Judge Moore and his intentions when they elected him to the state’s highest judicial office three years ago. As the judge told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “They knew what they were electing.” Two years ago, Chief Justice Moore had a 5,300-pound monument featuring the Ten Commandments placed in the rotunda of the state’s Judicial Building. Predictably, groups promoting the secular agenda sued to have the monument removed.

Nine months ago, the Federal District Court ordered the removal of the monument. Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the monument is “nothing more than an obtrusive year-round religious display.” After months of legal maneuvering and appeals, the order is apparently soon to be enforced.

Anticipating this showdown, Chief Justice Moore declared that he would not--indeed could not--remove the monument or comply with the judge’s order, because to do so would be to violate Alabama’s state constitution, which acknowledges “Almighty God.” Last Friday, the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission suspended the Chief Justice from his duties, finding him guilty of disobeying a lawful order from the federal court. Unless the state’s Court of the Judiciary finds otherwise, Chief Justice Moore is almost certain to be removed from office.

The state--with the whole nation watching--now faces the prospect of a showdown between the judge’s supporters and whatever authority is called upon to remove the monument. The chief’s fellow justices and the state’s Attorney General will not defy the order. Several prominent Christian leaders have jumped to Judge Moore’s defense. Some, like Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, warn that the nation stands at “a turning point, a pivotal point in the history of this country.” Furthermore, he said, “There are times when you have to respond to a higher law.”

Others, including Dr. Richard D. Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, argue that Chief Justice Moore is harming the cause of religious liberty and the rule of law by defying a lawful court order. As Land explains, “If we disagree with a judicial interpretation of the law (which makes it the law until it is changed) ... then we must change the judges and, if necessary, change the laws.”

With hundreds--and potentially thousands--of Christian citizens being urged to go to Montgomery to defend the monument and the Chief Justice, we face the very real possibility of an ugly confrontation. Serious Christians had better think hard and think fast before we find ourselves in a very public debacle. We had also better pay close attention to our arguments, for they are sure to be turned against us if we are careless.

With so much at stake, let’s try to think carefully as we review the critical issues.

First, Chief Justice Moore is certainly correct in his insistence that the Ten Commandments monument is fully constitutional. Nothing in the First Amendment touches even remotely on this issue, and the founders would certainly be flabbergasted to think that a federal judge would find such a display unconstitutional. Judge Moore is absolutely right in asserting that the Ten Commandments have long been acknowledged--even by the courts--as the foundation of our legal system and its moral precepts. After all, the Ten Commandments are inscribed on the wall of the U. S. Supreme Court--at least for now.

Second, the groups behind the federal lawsuit are a rogue’s gallery of secularists, including the American Civil Liberties Union (Alabama chapter) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The ACLU is notorious for its determination to purge the public square of any Christian reference. The Americans United organization is, if anything, perhaps more extreme in its secularist agenda. Both groups are zealously committed to a secular vision for America and oppose everything from voluntary student-led prayer at school sporting events to the presence of any religious symbol on public property. A quick look at these opponents tilts the argument significantly in Judge Moore’s favor.

Third, James Dobson’s warning that we stand at a crucially important moment is well taken. The secular tide threatens to deny history, distort the laws, rob believers of their freedoms, and push the nation into a brave new world of secularism--with all vestiges of authentic Christianity removed from public view and safely restricted to private settings. Let’s call this what it is. The secularists hate the Ten Commandments because the authority of the law eventually depends upon a divine authority, or all morality is absolutely relative and endlessly negotiable. The Ten Commandments remind us that morality is not relative. This explains the secularists’ hatred of the monument.

Fourth, Richard Land and Jay Sekulow have the rule of law on their side, and years of experience defending Christian liberty under their belts. Christians cannot turn to the courts when we want rescue and then disobey the same courts when we lose. Chief Justice Moore is not helping his case--or the cause of religious liberty--by refusing to obey a lawful order of the court. His arguments fail to sustain his refusal to obey the order. It is by no means clear that his obedience of this order would in any way imply that he, or the state of Alabama, is failing to recognize the authority of Almighty God. Did the state fail in this acknowledgment for all those years before Judge Moore established his monument? Land and Sekulow have put themselves in the line of fire in this controversy--and they are right.

Fifth, Judge Moore has not yet exhausted all the legal avenues of appeal open to him. He would be in a much stronger legal and moral position if he had obeyed the order of the federal court and then appealed by every means available. Then--and only then--would Christian civil disobedience be justified. Even then, civil disobedience would not be automatic.

Sixth, Chief Justice Moore and his stalwart defenders had better think long and hard about the justification for Christian civil disobedience. The Apostle Paul points to the Christian’s responsibility to obey the magistrate as a critical function of Christian witness [see Romans 13] . Similarly, Peter called for Christians to “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” [1 Peter 2:12] Let’s remember that Peter and Paul addressed their admonitions to Christians living under the pagan rule of Rome. We cannot possibly wiggle out of these words in the context of contemporary America. Or can we?

For centuries, Christians have argued that civil disobedience is lawful only in defense of human life, Christian witness, and Christian ministry. Christians were willing to die--and countless Christians have been martyred--because they would not bend the knee to Caesar [or Stalin, or Mao, or Castro, or the Taliban] and deny Christ. Christians in Nazi Germany risked their lives to save Jews. Christian pastors languish in jails around the world even today because they will not cease preaching the Gospel. No serious Christian would doubt their justification to resist the regime and disobey its laws. We do follow a higher law than the laws of men--but only when to do otherwise is to deny the faith or allow the innocent to die.

We must support and defend the right of the State of Alabama--or any other state--to erect a monument featuring the Ten Commandments. Judge Moore is right in his insistence that his monument is lawful. He should press that case in every court until all appeals have been exhausted. But he should also obey lawful orders of the federal courts until that point is reached. Even if he ultimately loses at the U. S. Supreme Court, we should work through the democratic process to remove the judges and reassert legal sanity.

Otherwise, we are effectively arguing that the American system of government is completely corrupted, and that no remedy can be found through the legitimate political process. Those who are ready to make that case should take full measure of what they are proposing. I know of no responsible Christian leader who is even close to making that argument. We are indeed living in a season of peril for our nation. The federal courts have twisted the Constitution to push a radical social and moral revolution. This is why concerned Christians should push for the confirmation of federal judges who will uphold the rule of law--and the original meaning of the Constitution. But we cannot simultaneously deny the courts’ authority and seek to correct their direction.

Seventh, we must learn to choose our battles wisely. The court-ordered removal of Alabama’s Ten Commandments monument would be a national tragedy and a travesty of law. But thoughtful and responsible Christian leaders must ponder whether this is the place to take our stand in a court-defying, go-for-broke effort. The recovery of a culture requires the stewardship of strategy as well as firmness of conviction.

Eighth, we should seize this moment as an opportunity to awaken the conscience of the American people to the peril we face. Unless the direction of the federal courts is corrected, religious liberty will be negotiated into nothingness. Courts and legislative bodies at every level threaten basic religious liberties and precious freedoms. The secularists really do want to expunge Christianity from the public square. We must educate Christians to engage the culture and the political system, or it will one day be too late.

Ninth, Christians of deep conviction must learn that we will at times disagree over tactics while standing united in a strategy to defend religious liberty and Christian witness. No one has motivated more Christians to engage these issues than has James Dobson. We all stand in his debt. Richard Land has transformed the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC into a trusted and powerful voice for righteousness. Jay Sekulow has represented us all before the highest courts of the land as he has won many of the most important victories for religious liberty and the sanctity of human life in our times. This is not a time for division, but for unity.

Last, we must pray for Chief Justice Roy Moore as he sets the course for how he will deal with this crisis in the future. He brought this case to national prominence because he is a man of deep Christian character, conviction, and principles. May God grant him wisdom to lead us out of this crisis in keeping with those same principles.

Taken from Dr. Mohler’s weblog at: http://mohler.crosswalk.com.

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Theological journal examines Roe v. Wade 30 years later

LOUISVILLE, Ky.--It is clear 30 years later that the U.S. Supreme Court’s fateful decision in the 1973 Roe v. Wade has bequeathed to America a culture of death, writers in the latest edition of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology conclude.

Four professors from Southern Seminary and three other scholars contribute articles analyzing the theological and ethical fallout that has ensued in the three decades following the ruling.

In his editorial, journal editor Thomas R. Schreiner shows the faulty thinking behind abortion which views the autonomy of self as taking precedent over the life of the child. Schreiner is professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary.

“Whether we think of euthanasia or of cloning, the moral vacuity of our generation is depressingly evident,” Schreiner writes. “Some defend ardently the lives of snails and whales, and would hesitate to crush the eggs of birds, and yet they insist that killing unborn human beings is legitimate.

“Compassion for the baby being formed in the womb is absent, even though ultrasound technology enables us clearly to see life in the womb. We can see the marvelously crafted little fingers and hands, hear the heart pulsate with life, and watch the baby suck his thumb. Still, many demand that the mother has the right to snuff out the life of the baby.”

In his essay, Russell D. Moore shows how evangelical theology at first embraced the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe, but quickly did an about-face upon further investigation of abortion in light of Scripture. Moore is assistant professor of theology at Southern Seminary and director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.

Once evangelicals began to understand that the Bible does not place a sharp separation between body and soul and that humans are created as the bearers of God’s image, they rejected Roe and began to fight for the unborn, Moore recounts.

“The creation mandate of Genesis grants the primeval humans as the vice-regents of God’s dominion over nature in all of its forms (Gen 1:26; Psalm 8) -- but it does not grant them ‘godlike’ dominion over human life,” Moore writes.

“Indeed, evangelical theology and its interface with the ‘theology’ of abortion rights has marshaled a compelling biblical case against such views of human autonomy in life-and-death decision-making, views that are essential to the case of Roe.

“... [E]vangelical theology has reasserted the biblical concept that the imago dei (image of God) that establishes the uniqueness of humanity is itself that which renders the murder of innocent human life unthinkable,” Moore writes.

The journal also includes a sermon on Psalm 139 by Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. Mohler argues that abortion is an egregious sin ultimately because it undermines the dignity humans have as persons created in the image of God.

“Christians must be defenders of human dignity and human life because we know the value of every single human being -- born or pre-born -- made in God’s image,” Mohler notes. “We are stewards of the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe. Thus, we are advocates for life and ambassadors of the Gospel. There is no time to waste.”

Kenneth Magnuson, associate professor of Christian ethics at Southern Seminary, analyzes the connection between contraception and abortion. His article focuses on the view of church father Augustine, who considered the attempt to prevent conception to be immoral on par with the destruction of the fetus.

Augustine argued that contraception sinfully separated sexual relations and pleasure from the openness of procreation. While most evangelicals reject Augustine’s view, it can serve as something of a corrective in our own day, Magnuson writes.

“We may be in some need of Augustinian correction,” Magnuson writes. “For instance, it is not quite right to say that Augustine has a negative attitude towards sex. Rather, his view is that sex (and even sexual desire), as part of God’s creative purposes, may be affirmed as good, but that fallen sexual desire is hopelessly tainted by concupiscence or lust.

“Augustine’s concern with birth control is at least partly that sexual desire aimed at pleasure as an end in itself either stems from or leads to lust, to the extent that not only is the attempt made to prevent conception, but if necessary, to kill what is conceived. Sexual pleasure is made to be an idol. Such is ‘cruel lust,’ in Augustine’s words.”

C. Ben Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Baylor University professor Francis J. Beckwith also contribute articles. The journal includes a panel discussion on abortion along with a number of book reviews.

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