Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Nobody Taught Me in Seminary That I Had to Learn the Hard Way

Excerpts from Sermons by Dr. John Huffman, Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Eight Things Not Taught in Seminary Part 1, October 29, 2013
Eight Things Not Taught in Seminary Part 2, October 30, 2013

1. Seminary is the best place in the world to lose your faith.
2.  Maintain a daily devotional life independent of your studies and sermon preparation.
3.  The highest calling tin the world is not professional ministry.
4.  You will never be more in ministry than you are today.
5.  Get involved now in a covenant group and never be without one all through your ministry.
6.  A simple trust in God's Word is more important than a highly sophisticated intellectual set of answers for everything.
7.  Spend as much time in the newspaper as in the Bible, and vice versa.
8.  Be faithful to biblical moral standards now.
9.  Develop a physical exercise program now and treat it as faithfully as you do your devotional life.
10.  Ministry marriages are not exempt from the same problems other marriages have.
11.  Begin tithing now, don't rationalize that you will do it later.
12. If you mess up, claim God's grace, get help, and get up and get going.
13.  Pastors too come from dysfunctional families and can perpetuate it and even originate it.
14.  Because you are in fulltime Christian services does not mean you are exempt from catastrophe.
15.  Yours is the privilege of a "task within a task."
16.  Write out one sermon per week as your best effort and then claim God's help to come as close to possible to preaching without notes.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pastor's Roundtable Reading Lists

Wondering what to read next? Looking for a book for your reading group?  Try one of these titles*, read and discussed by the Pastors Roundtable Group the past 3 years. This group is  led by Dr. Ken Swetland and Dr. David Horn at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Hamilton campus:

The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor by John Stott
The Shack by William Paul Young
Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship by David Peterson
Religious Affections by Johnathan Edwards
Let Go: To Get Peace and Real Joy by Francois Fenelon
Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to do About it by Julian Duin
The Surprising Work of God by Garth Rosell

Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton
Discovering an Evangelical Heritage by Donald Dayton
Jesus Through the Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth Bailey
Courage to be Protestant: Truth Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Post-Modern World by David Wells
Christ- Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice by Bryan Chapell
Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old- Fashioned Way by J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett
Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul Tripp
Signature Sins: Taming Our Wayward Hearts by Michael Mangis

How Then Should We Choose? by Douglas Huffman
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes
Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic by Chris Castaldo
Judge Sewell's Apology: A Biography: The Salem Witch Trials and the Forming of an American Conscience by Richard Francis
Erasmus- Luther: Discourse on Free Well by Ernst F. Winter
Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes us Just by Tim Keller
Love Wins by Rob Bell 

*Book titles with a hyperlink are available at Gordon-Conwell's online bookstore, in partnership with Christian Book Distributors (CBD). Every time you place an order through the online bookstore, Gordon-Conwell will receive a percentage of the sales.  Within the last two years, Gordon-Conwell has received over $20,000.  These proceeds support the Seminary's educational services for students.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pastors' Roundtable Reading List

Wondering what to read next? Looking for a book for your reading group?  Try one of these titles*, read and discussed by the Pastors Roundtable Group led by Dr. Ken Swetland and Dr. David Horn at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Hamilton campus:

The Pastor by Eugene Peterson
Ten Myths About Calvinism by Kenneth Stewart
Allah by Miroslav Volf
Worship and the Reality of God by John Jefferson Davis
Nearing Home by Billy Graham
The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos
Technopoly by Neil Postman
Evangelical Theology by Karl Barth
Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte

*Book titles with a hyperlink are available at Gordon-Conwell's online bookstore, in partnership with Christian Book Distributors (CBD). Every time you place an order through the online bookstore, Gordon-Conwell will receive a percentage of the sales.  Within the last two years, Gordon-Conwell has received over $20,000.  These proceeds support the Seminary's educational services for students.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

By David Horn, ThD
Director, The Ockenga Institute

Can you believe this?: In fifth grade Sunday School I had to learn them all: Genesis...
Exodus…Leviticus…Numbers…Deuteronomy…through those pesky minor prophets, Micah…Nahum…Habakkuk…and on through the New Testament books…all the way to Revelation. Not only did we have to learn the books of the Bible, we were also tested on a list of the kings of Israel and Judah and, of course, the prophets. Our hero at the time was our classmate, Peggy Corneil, who could recite all three lists backwards and forwards. Amazing mind, that Peggy!
By present standards, this kind of curriculum would be considered wholly inadequate. The measuring line by which we measure such things as Sunday School curriculum and small group materials is the degree to which it is considered “practical.” This is the gold standard question: “To what extent is there a life application attached to whatever we teach?”
Pastors and others in ministry know this all too well. The pervasive value behind whatever goes on in the church is its perceived practicality. Every time a sermon is preached, a bible study is taught, or a small group is administered, the pastor stands against the proverbial door and the congregation measures his or her growth against the standards of this one core value.
And, what goes on in seminaries is no exception. The current market, in fact, places traditional theological education up against para-church organizations whose central mission is cultural relevancy and a commitment to practical daily living. A whole cottage industry of manuals and CD/DVDs and three ring notebooks are geared toward ways in which biblical principles are linked to a myriad of life contexts, be it family life, or leadership situations, or relational complexities.
Seminary curriculum is increasingly expected to meet this litmus test of practicality. Did I hear an alum/pastor right a couple of years ago when she stated that her seminary failed her because we did not offer an entire course on developing church capital campaigns? Apparently, she was in the middle of funding a new building, and she felt inadequate with the pressures that were being placed on her by her church. Gordon-Conwell just did not measure up to her expectations.
There is much to be said about relating biblical and theological truths to daily living. A dynamic life of faith is nothing, if not connected to the warp and wolf of our lives. But, perhaps we need to rethink what we mean by “practical.” All of those lists of the books of the Bible, kings, and prophets certainly didn’t connect easily, in my fifth grade mind, to a life being played out at Garfield grade school. At the end of the day, I could not readily make out a life application related to my little world.
Those lists were not practical in that immediate application sort-of-way. But, I have been feasting off of the knowledge of that fifth grade class for over forty-five years, all the way through my seminary education and into ministry in the church and the seminary. To be honest, I am sure I would miss a few of those kings and prophets right now, but the residue of those lists still cling to me. The larger backdrop of my life has been measured unconsciously against my fifth grade education.
And so it is with the seminary education you received at Gordon-Conwell. The seminary is just not going to be able to anticipate every practical ministry contingency you or I confront, including fund raising building strategies. The curriculum just couldn’t hold all of them. But, the aim is to be practical when measured against years, and not necessarily days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Do Animals Have Souls?

By Sean McDonough, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

Dedicated readers of this blog (and might the plural, let alone the “dedicated”, be rather optimistic?) will note that the question in the title is a follow-up to a previous post involving the question of human “souls” – and more importantly, the question of how words work. This present piece springs from close observation of my dog at work and play…or more precisely, at rest and play, with the occasional duty of barking at people who pass by the house, and enthusiastically greeting those who enter it.
Now, with respect to humans, I argued that while we cannot expect to isolate an entity called “the soul” somewhere in a Platonic heaven, the word “soul” does mighty good work addressing the interior dimension of our existence. Right from the start, then, we recognize that since humans don’t “have” souls in the same sense that they have bus tokens or a mole on their cheek, we would assume that animals don’t have them, either. This is a crucial point, since without it we can find ourselves split in two by a putative decision tree:
Do animals have souls?
No> Wantonly ridicule, kill and eat them
Yes> Refuse to make any use of them whatsoever, and set up animal focus groups with a view towards creating greater inter-species cooperation.
It doesn’t work that way.
The question about animals “having souls” is really a question as to whether they have an “interior dimension of their existence” that warrants the use of the word “soul”. And here the evidence is a bit mixed. The crucial element in determining the presence and nature of such an interior dimension is, generally speaking, speaking. I use “generally speaking” not only for the delight of having “speaking” appear twice in a sentence, but also because we can assume the presence of the interior dimension of a person who is unable to communicate with words. But generally we know what is in a person’s “soul” because they tell us about it.
Animals do not do this, Doctor Doolittle aside. They can’t tell us whether Eli Manning is an “elite” quarterback, or whether a beautiful sunset can reasonably be termed “sublime”. If the proverbial roomful of monkeys ever did bang out Shakespeare’s works on their monkey-friendly word-processors, it would only be by accident, not intent.
Even as I write this, I can sense the growing wrath of animal lovers. So I hasten to add that even if animals don’t communicate with language which reveals an interior dimension of life perfectly analogous with that of humans, they surely communicate in all sorts of other ways. Pain, fear, anger – a growl or a whine or a nip can get that dimension of their “inner” experience across quite clearly. And while dogged materialists will strive to tell us canines can’t really be sad, as a dog-owner and recent viewer of Benji the Hunted, I feel comfortable in affirming that they can…at least in some sense.
And it is with precisely such equivocation that I want to conclude this brief exploration of the animal soul. We can know quite a bit about what humans are like on the inside. We simply can’t know what is going on with animals with the same level of precision. So using the language of “soul” is probably not the most helpful thing to do. But that hardly establishes an unbridgeable chasm between the animals and us. The Scripture is quite clear that whatever unique qualities humans bring to the table, we are all of us, human and animal alike, part of God’s creation, distinct from the creator himself (Revelation 4, where humans are mixed in with the beasts in the persons of the “living creatures”, is a particularly vivid illustration of this fact). The Scripture also warrants using animals in labor and for food, so I eat my cheeseburgers with a clean conscience.
And if my dog ever questions me about that, I’ll just point out to her that she eats the hamburger, too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What About Christmas Next Year?

By Roy Ciampa, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

What have we Christians done with Christmas? What might we do with it if we seriously wanted to honor the Christ whose birth we celebrate? My family and I just enjoyed a very nice Christmas together, but I confess that I would like my Christmas to be different next year.
Jim Wallis and Scott McKnight have reminded us that “Last year, Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas. Clean water for the whole world, including every poor person on the planet, would cost about $20 billion. Let’s just call that what it is: A material blasphemy of the Christmas season.” A CNN report from just the other day mentioned that they expect $46,000,000,000.00 (it stands out more with the zeros, I think, than to just write 46 billion dollars) worth of gifts to be returned after this year’s Christmas. That is, we will have spent more than twice as much money on unwanted gifts for each other than it would cost to provide clean water for everyone on the planet.
The Christmas we celebrate (and that so many seem concerned to “defend”) is the celebration of God sending his Son so that we might have life. Not so that we might have the most outlandish celebration of materialism possible… The time to start thinking about next Christmas is not next November, but right now. Of course we will buy presents for our children. But what if we decided that next Christmas we would celebrate Christ’s coming for us by giving much more money to those in need around the world, and to projects that would have a lasting impact, than we would give to friends and family who will still be more prosperous than most people around the world even if they receive much less under the tree, but are given the opportunity to join in with us.
The family of one of the couples in our church small group decided that for Christmas this year they would send World Vision enough money to pay for a home for orphaned children ($5,100), and they kindly invited the rest of us to join in with them. World Vision has a whole set of similar gift options that are “too big for a box and a bow,” things that cost between $300 and $39,000. Other organizations provide similar opportunities to make our giving about much more than, as Wallis put it, “a material blasphemy of the Christmas season.” Wouldn’t it be something if within a few years from now Christmas celebrations in American had begun to shift in their emphasis to such a degree that the new orientation was as ubiquitous as the latest Apple product? I realize such a change would have a huge impact on the US economy, but surely we could find a way to deal with that…
Luke 8:8-11 tells us that the first to get the news on that first Christmas morning were some shepherds out in their fields. The news was given to them rather than to Caesar Augustus or to Quirinius, governor of Syria (both of whom are mentioned in the first verse of the chapter) to remind us that the news of this savior is not news just for the top 1%, or even the top 20 or 80 percent, but “good news that will cause great joy for all the people”:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11, NIV)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reading and Other Matters

By David Horn, ThD
Director, The Ockenga Institute

Ever have one of those books you were embarrassed to say you hadn’t read but were afraid to admit it? You know, the kind of book you feel you would be caught with your pants down if someone asked you to weigh in on it for some reason: “You mean, you haven’t read such-and-such?”
So it is with Neil Postman’s Technology. I just finished it and feel guilty about having not read it a long time ago. I could not put it down. Now I can say to you, my readers, “What do you think of Postman’s view on the pervasive role of technology in American culture?” “What, you haven’t read it? You really need to do so.”
With this grand confession behind me, I actually don’t have a large quantity to say about the book itself except to say that, at its core, Postman reminds us of that most profound truth that the things that influence us the most in our day-to-day lives are the most subtle and evasive. We think we control our lives by sheer force of our own awareness of these influences. But like all things cultural, we are as much servants as kings of our own domains.
So embedded are our perceptions, in fact, in the “taken for granted” nature of the cultures surrounding us that we are rarely conscious of how these cultural phenomena affect us and the others around us. Like an iceberg in the North Atlantic sea, we may well be able to see and understand a small part of how our influences work and affect our lives, but it is the vast underworld beneath the waterline that is most telling. It is this underworld of culture that James Hunter says, in his book, To Change the World, that is most deceptively strong because culture is “most powerful…when it is perceived as self-evident.”
Such, says Postman, is the case especially with the technologies that fill our lives. We are often unconscious victims of the very tools we think we control. And by tools, he is not just speaking of the mechanical and electronic devices that fill our lives--computers, toasters, mp3 devices, and the like. Language, as we now use it, is a technological tool. How about polling? Think about how our values are being controlled now by the mere fact that we can almost instantaneously determine that 47% versus 53% now believe such and such is right. And, we now live in a world where we can know the most minute details of the most mundane set of facts immediately, all at our googled fingertips.
Our world is too much with us and we don’t even know it. I wonder how these technologies shape us ever so subtly? What is that Christian virtue of ‘patience’ you ask, for example? At one time, patience was that human enterprise that stretched out between spring-time when my grandfather farmer put his potato seedlings in and the fall when he pulled the potatoes out of the ground. For me, patience has been reduced to a milla-second as I pound on the side of my computer because it isn’t fast enough. Patience completely redefined and I don’t even know it!
Speaking of patience, I have got to end. I need to download my next book on my iPad.