Mary Webb: God’s Power is Perfected in Weakness

the-baptist-storyIn recent days, I have been reading a narrative history titled The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement (B&H Academic, 2015). Written by three church history professors, Anthony Chute (California Baptist University), Nathan Finn (Union University), and Michael Haykin (Southern Seminary), this volume has introduced me to several intriguing figures and movements. This brief story on page 135 illustrates how God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor 12:9):

The Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes was open to both Baptist and Congregationalist women who pledged their “mites” (so named after the widow’s offering in Mark 12:42 KJV) to support missionaries. Not only was this the first women’s missionary society formed in America; it demonstrated that physical limitations did not preclude one from having a global impact. Mary Webb had been paralyzed since age five but served as secretary-treasurer of the BFMS for half a century. From her home, sitting in her wheelchair, Webb wrote thousands of letters raising awareness and financial support for missions.

Webb’s story inspires me. If you have not already read The Baptist Story, I encourage you to add it to your 2017 reading list.

ETS 2016 Paper in Progress: Incarnation, Change, & Trinity

ETSDuring this week of Fall Break at NOBTS, I have been working on my paper that was accepted for next month’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. The title is: “Did the Incarnation Introduce Change among the Persons of the Trinity?” (Click here to read the proposal.) I was encouraged to find support for my thesis in the writings of theologians as diverse as Wolfhart Pannenberg and Wayne Grudem, among others. Consider these extended quotations:

“The passion of Jesus Christ is not an event which concerned only the human nature that the divine Logos assumed, as though it did not affect in any way the eternal placidity of the trinitarian life of God. . . . It is incorrect, of course, to speak point-blank of the death of God on the cross, as has been done since the time of Hegel. We can say only of the Son of God that he was ‘crucified, dead, and buried.’ To be dogmatically correct, indeed, we have to say that the Son of God, though he suffered and died himself, did so according to his human nature. . . . Nevertheless, we have to say that Jesus was affected by suffering and death on the cross in person, i.e., in the person of the eternal Son. . . . Nor can the Father be thought of as unaffected by the passion of his Son if it is true that God is love. . . . To this extent we may speak of the Father’s sharing of the suffering of the Son, his sym-pathy with the passion.” – Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 1:314. The word “sym-pathy” is broken in the original.

“in his human nature, Jesus died (Luke 23:46; 1 Cor. 15:3). But with respect to his divine nature, he did not die, but was able to raise himself from the dead. . . . Nevertheless, by virtue of union with Jesus’ human nature, his divine nature somehow tasted something of what it was like to go through death. The person of Christ experienced death. . . . Therefore, even though Jesus’ divine nature did not actually die, Jesus went through the whole experience of death as a whole person, and both human and divine natures somehow shared in that experience.” – Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 560. Emphasis his.

I look forward to completing this paper in order to present it and receive feedback to sharpen my thinking on the intersecting points of incarnation, change, and Trinity.

Some of the works which have informed my writing on this question include:

Augustine, On the Trinity.

Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ.

The Canons of the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Constantinople (553)

Crisp, Oliver D., and Fred Sanders, ed. Christology, Ancient & Modern: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Crisp, Oliver D. The Word Enfleshed: Exploring the Person and Work of Christ. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016.

Erickson, Millard J. Who’s Tampering with the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009.

Fiddes, Paul. The Creative Suffering of God. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.

Ganssle, Gregory E., ed. Four Views of God and Time. Downers Grove: IVP, 2001.

Gavrilyuck, Paul L. The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought, Oxford Early Christian Studies, ed. Gillian Clark and Andrew Louth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Letham, Robert. The Message of the Person of Christ: The Word Made Flesh. The Bible Speaks Today, ed. Derek Tidball. Downers Grove: IVP, 2013.

McCall, Thomas H. Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.

McCall, Thomas H. Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010.

Peckham, John C. The Love of God: A Canonical Model. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.

Sanders, Fred, and Klaus Issler, ed. Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007.


New Book on Salvation

front-coverI am excited to announce the release of a new book of essays on the doctrine of salvation titled Anyone Can Be Saved: A Defense of “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology (Wipf & Stock, 2016).

The description on the back cover explains,

Anyone Can Be Saved articulates a biblical-theological explanation of the doctrine of salvation in light of the rise of Calvinistic theology among Southern Baptist churches in the United States. Ten scholars, pastors, and leaders advocate for the ten articles of the Traditional Statement by appealing to Scripture, the Baptist Faith and Message, and a variety of biblical, theological, and philosophical writings. Although many books address the doctrine of salvation, these authors consciously set aside the Calvinist-Arminian presuppositions that have framed this discussion in western theology for centuries. The contributors are unified in their conviction that any person who hears the gospel can be saved, a view that was found among earlier Baptists as well as other Christian groups today. This book is not meant to be the final word on Southern Baptist soteriology, but is offered as a peaceable contribution to the wider conversation on the doctrine of salvation.”

The book carries the following endorsements:

Anyone Can Be Saved critically underscores the world’s mission efforts. This book shows why God’s sovereignty is left unaffected by the doctrine of the freedom of man and establishes the regeneration of the sinner as a result of repentance and faith. David Allen’s chapter, ‘The Atonement of Christ,’ is again, in my estimation, an unanswerable argument for anybody who takes the Great Commission as a serious mandate from God. This book is essential reading.”
Paige Patterson, President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX

“At last a scholarly treatise of soteriology that clearly defines salvation as held and believed by the vast majority of Southern Baptists. I am so grateful that all are savable. I will keep this book close in order to pass it on to lots of seekers of truth. Thank God, Jesus saves all that repent and believe the gospel.”
Johnny Hunt, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock GA; Former President, Southern Baptist Convention

“American Evangelicals have long required a presentation of personal salvation regulated neither by dogmatic Calvinism nor its venerable combatant Arminianism. However, this requisite system must also be permanently grounded in Scripture while manifesting roots in Christian history, philosophy, and experience. Anyone Can Be Saved dares and succeeds in explicating a traditional Baptist soteriology that offers all Evangelicals just such a thoughtful, worshipful, and fruitful way forward. Highly recommended!”
Malcolm B. Yarnell III, Author of God the Trinity; Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

The book was edited and contains essays by:

David L. Allen (PhD, University of Texas at Arlington) is dean of the School of Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth. His publications include Hebrews (2010), Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (2010), Text-Driven Preaching (2010), Whosoever Will (2010), 1-3 John (2013), and The Extent of the Atonement (2016).

Eric Hankins (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is pastor of First Baptist Church, Oxford, Mississippi. He is the primary author of A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation (2012).

Adam Harwood (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor of theology, McFarland Chair of Theology, and editor of Journal of Baptist Theology & Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. His publications include The Spiritual Condition of Infants (2011) and Born Guilty? (2013).

Other contributors include:

David Hankins (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, Alexandria. He is the author of One Sacred Effort.

Steve Horn (PhD, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary), pastor of First Baptist Church, Lafayette, Louisiana.

Braxton Hunter (PhD, Trinity Theological Seminary), president and professor of philosophy and apologetics at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary, Newburgh, Indiana. His publications include Death is a Doorway, Blinding Lights, CORE Facts, and Evangelistic Apologetics.

Steve W. Lemke (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), provost and professor of philosophy and ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. His publications include The Return of Christ and Whosoever Will.

Preston Nix (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), professor of evangelism and evangelistic preaching and Roland Q. Leavell Chair of Evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Brad Reynolds (PhD, College of William and Mary), vice president for Academic Services and professor of Christian Studies at Truett-McConnell University, Cleveland, Georgia.

Ronnie W. Rogers (MA, Henderson State University), senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, Oklahoma. His publications include Undermining the Gospel, The Death of Man as Man, Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist, and The Equipping Church.

The book is available from Amazon and Wipf & Stock.

Interview with Dr. Steve Gaines

This week, Dr. Leighton Flowers of Soteriology 101 released an interview with Dr. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In the 56-minute podcast, they address issues such as unity in the SBC, the use of the sinner’s prayer, and the trustee system among SBC entities. The interview is available here on iTunes or at Soteriology 101, and I encourage you to invest the time to listen to their conversation.

Andy Stanley on Wrong Views of God

On August 21, 2016, Andy Stanley delivered a message which I hope gains a wide audience. Stanley is the son of Dr. Charles Stanley and is the founder and pastor of North Point Community Church in Georgia. I listen to Andy Stanley’s messages occasionally and have benefitted from reading a couple of his books. This message “Gods of the No Testament” is the second in a series titled “Who Needs God.” The message is interesting because rather than presenting an explanation, illustration, and application of a particular text, Stanley attempts to overturn false ideas about God that are sometimes cited by critics of Christianity. Such criticisms of these views of God when coupled with personal tragedy sometimes results in people walking away from the Christian faith. In this message, Stanley makes the case that these views of God should be abandoned because they are not biblical views.

These wrong views of God which should be abandoned include:

The Bodyguard God – The God who never allows bad things to happen to good people. (In response, Stanley reminds listeners that Christianity is founded on the events of the cross of Christ, in which “bad things” happened to a perfect person.)

The On-Demand God – The God who responds to fair and selfless requests like we would. (Instead, God answers our requests with infinite wisdom.)

The Boyfriend/Girlfriend God – The God whose presence is always felt. (Stanley reminds us that we are least aware of what is most constant.)

The Guilt God – The God who controls people through guilt and fear; he loves but does not like people. (Stanely does not reply to this view in the message, but it might be stated that God desires repentance rather than guilt.)

The Anti-Science God – The God who requires us to live by undeniable science or unreliable religion. (Stanley explains that Christianity is based on more than simply faith; also the choice between faith and science is a false alternative.)

The Gap God – The God who is the explanation for everything we can’t explain. (Rather, God is the explanation for much in the universe that can be explained, such as design and order.)

For every view above, Stanley encourages people to stop believing in that kind of God. And he asks: Who told you God is like this? This is not the God of the Bible. Also, your life is better without belief in this type of God. Below are some brief observations on this message.

This sermon challenging weak or false views of God is needed for at least two reasons. First, these wrong views of God are held by many people who were raised in Christian homes. Such basic views of God might have been affirmed as children, but as adults these charicatures of God are wholly inadequate to deal with the complexities and challenges of the “real world.” Stanley’s criticism of these views reminds me of the classic work by J. B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small.

Second, dismissing Christianity as a fool’s system is growing in popularity. Whether in the books and YouTube presentations by New Atheists or through the cable shows and night club routines of mainstream comedians, Christians are regularly portrayed as flat-earth, gullible fools. But frequently, the views which are lampooned deserve to be ridiculed as warped and foolish; most of those views do not accurately represent the Christian faith. For these reasons, Stanley’s message needs to be heard.

Although I encourage people to listen to the message, I cannot recommend two specific choices Stanley made in his Sunday morning sermon. First, he failed to draw attention to and explain a biblical text. He mentions this omission in his sermon, explaining that this is the second of two sermons which serve to introduce the series. In my observation, Stanley typically deals skillfully with one or more biblical texts in a message. Because faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom 10:13) and God’s people are fed by God’s Word (1 Pet 2:2), it is important that Sunday morning messages always involve the reading and teaching of Scripture. Second, Stanley quoted from prominent critics of Christianity, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. It can be effective to cite prominent critics in order to respond to their views. However, when a pastor quotes a person from the pulpit, some listeners will explore that person’s writings, thinking, “Well, the pastor reads this author and mentioned him in church.” Listeners who are easily swayed could be persuaded by the very arguments against the faith that the pastor is trying to challenge. With those two points of concern noted, I still recommend that people listen to this message and I look forward to hearing the other messages in the series.

(Image from the website of North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, Georgia.)

New Book on the Atonement

B&H Academic recently announced the early, digital release of a new book by Dr. David L. Allen, who serves as Dean of the School of Theology, Professor of Preaching, Director of the Center for Expository Preaching, and holds the George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

I was pleased to write the following endorsement for his book:

“In this comprehensive historiography, David Allen clarifies the views of Christian thinkers on the extent of the atonement. He argues convincingly from primary sources that unlimited atonement has been the dominant view in the history of the church, even among many Calvinists. Allen challenges readers to discern at which point precisely the atonement was limited—in its intent, extent, or application. Because of the implications for evangelism, he gives special attention to treatments of this doctrine in the Baptist tradition. Allen’s study will benefit anyone interested in the question, ‘For whom did Christ die?’”

For more information on this important new release, see Dr. Allen’s blog.

Theology & Mental Illness

This week, I co-taught with a counseling professor an undergraduate course titled Theological Implications of Mental Illness. It is an elective course at Leavell College, on the campus of NOBTS. 

Every human is a complex and special creation of God, made in his image. But God’s creation was broken in various ways by the first couple’s sin, and that brokenness includes physical and mental disorders among people. Theological issues I addressed in the course included: human constitution, the image of God, providence, evil & suffering, moral accountability, demons & demonization, identity in Christ, and sanctification.

I recommend the primary textbook we used in the course, Grace for the Afflicted, for anyone serving in Christian ministry. The author, Matthew Stanford, holds a PhD in neuroscience and is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The book provides a clinical analysis of various mental disorders, using the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual, 4th edition, Text Revised) to present prevalence, symptoms, causes, and most effective treatments of selected mental disorders. Illnesses addressed in Stanford’s book include: bipolar, anxiety, eating, and depressive disorders. In addition to briefly describing the clinical nature of each illness, Stanford identifies biblical characters who seem to display symptoms of each disorder as well as how churches can support individuals and families that deal with mental illness.

Mental illness is a complex issue which is prevalent in our culture and churches. Stanford’s book is one resource that can equip pastors and leaders to help those suffering with mental illness get the help they so desperately need.

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