December 2010


I know the title sounds like a cliché, risks making the topic of my blog sound trite, etc. – so a better title would have probably have been “From Him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16).  While that’s certainly more biblically explicit and theologically profound, it’s a bit long for a title.  But it does provide an inspired framework for understanding how God wants His redemptive team to function.

One of my great joys, both in 30 years of pastoral ministry and my brief time here at the Seminary, has been to participate in great teams.   Currently at the Seminary I am involved in three teams on a consistent basis – the Cabinet of the President (led by Dr. Henry Smith), the Council of the Provost (led by Dr. David Wright), and our team within the Seminary (which I have the privilege of leading).  Each of these teams consists of people supportive of the leader, mutually committed to the mission and capable of working collegially with a blend of very unique personalities, gifts and passions.

Those great teams have both a relational dimension (“in love”) and a functional contribution (“does its work”).  Ephesians 4:16 not only celebrates who we are in Christ’s body, but illuminates serving in such a way that His body is expanded and strengthened.  A few observations arising out of that verse:

Great teams have a commitment to UNITY.

Christ is glorified by a “whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament…”  Teams quickly become dysfunctional when personal agendas are placed above a mission and priorities that have been established together.  Sometimes these agendas arise out of the failure to listen (James 1:19), from “selfish ambition” (James 3:14, 16), unresolved issues within a team member (James 4:1), or the entitlement mentality so prevalent in our individualistic Western culture.  In other words, there are many motivations behind divisive personal agendas.

Unity does not mean uniformity – we are all part of the same body but are not all the same part of the body.  In fact, the greatest teams I’ve participated in have found their unity enriched through diversity – a tapestry of personalities, ethnicities, genders, gifting and experiences.      We’re experiencing this right now as our Seminary team works to prepare to offer our MDIV in the Spanish language.  Our Administrative team has been strengthened by the leadership of Rev. Joanne Solis-Walker, our Director of Latino Latina Education.

Unity does not mean the absence of conflict – in fact, healthy conflict strengthens teams.  Teams that succumb to “group think” or “happy talk” rarely reach their full potential, because differing perspectives and words of warning are suppressed.  Conflict can be uncomfortable and yet simultaneously beneficial as the team fulfills its purpose.

In church planting we talk about the need for “agenda agreement.”   As an initial core group is forming for a new church, people may be attracted based on their personal assumptions of what the church will look and act like.  Early agreement about the contours of the mission and the strategies to fulfill it provides a foundation for a strong team.

Great teams know their RESPONSIBILITY.

The purpose of every team which is part of the body of Christ is to determine its contribution so that the body “grows and builds itself up in love.”  A local church needs many effective teams operating under the umbrella of one purpose and yet taking responsibility for its unique assignment for the growth and building up of the church.  These teams may have the responsibility of envisioning new ministry possibilities (usually a “task force” approach with a definite time frame for beginning and ending is best) or of maximizing a ministry that already exists.

Vision leaks, and strategies tend to fragment resulting in a diffusion of focus.  Great teams are diligent in clarifying their contribution.  The Cabinet of our University is continually prompted by our President and his Chief of Staff to tie everything we do to our four strategic objectives – and if it doesn’t connect to one of those, there had better be another compelling reason as to why we’re doing it!

Great teams generate ENERGY.

The verse concludes with “as each part does its work.”  The word “work” (energeia) carries the idea of energy.  Now there are different levels of energy represented by team members – some higher energy, some lower energy.  As a person on the lower end of the energy spectrum, I have to budget my energy more carefully – teams have to budget their energy as well.  There are different kinds of energy – I have an abundance of “thrust” energy (for initiating), but am always grateful to be on a team where other members have energy for sustaining what has been started.

Years ago I was part of a learning group in which Bill Hybels encouraged us to schedule according to our energy more than our time.  Great teams also know how to help each member schedule their energy to make the greatest investment in the highest priorities.

As 2010 ends, I’m thankful for every team I’ve been blessed to be involved in this year.  In anticipation of 2011, both the relationships and responsibilities of each team will be a source of edification both personally and organizationally.  Most of all, there is a sense of adventure and significance that comes from responding to our Head, Jesus Christ!

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A few weeks ago we were looking at a nativity set with my three year old son, Sam.  My wife was pointing to each character so that Sam could name them.  When she came to Jesus lying in the manger, she asked “And who’s that?”  He answered, “Baby God.”  We smiled and laughed.  The phrase was strange, jarring, and perhaps even blasphemous.  But, then again, so is everything else we say about the Christmas event!

“Baby God” is just a unfamiliar way of stating the mystery of Christmas.  Only on account of its unfamiliarity does it seems more strange, more jarring, and more blasphemous, than the more familiar turns of phrase.  For the mystery of Christmas is that God became human. And that is a strange, jarring and perhaps even blasphemous thing to say.  The one thing we think we know about God is that God is not human.  But the Christmas event reveals that God can be what he is not (i.e., human) without ceasing to be who he is (i.e., divine).  Every Christmas message, insofar as it is true, declares this strange, jarring, and perhaps even blasphemous mystery.

What makes the phrase “Baby God” so jarring, strange, and perhaps even blasphemous?  Well, God is almighty.  Deity is defined by might, power and strength.  But a baby is weak.  Infancy is defined by weakness, impotence and vulnerability.  The mystery of Christmas is that the almighty God became a weak baby.  The mystery of Christmas is the mystery of Baby God.

Do Christians then deny the almightiness of God?  No.  But we do redefine God’s omnipotence in light of Christmas.  For Christians, God is all-mighty, but he is not only-mighty.  God’s mightiness includes his capacity to also be weak.  God is so mighty that he can become weak without ceasing to be mighty.

This means that God’s mightiness is not like our mightiness.  In fact, the pure mightiness by which we tend to define God is just a human projection, an expression of our sinful desire to not need anyone or anything.  The message of Christmas implies that pure might is not divine but demonic.  “Might makes right” is not God’s way of being — and neither should it be ours!

This Christmas, don’t shy away from talking about Baby God.  Don’t shy away from making the familiar message unfamiliar again.  In your thoughts, conversations and sermons, highlight the unfamiliar mystery hidden within the all-too-familiar Christmas message.  For the Christmas message is jarring, strange and perhaps even blasphemous.  But it’s true!  So don’t shy away from finding creative ways to speak the truth this Christmas.

-John L. Drury

This past Saturday 13 MA students in our seminary graduated, with 5 present on campus for our consecration service and to walk in the official graduation ceremonies.

Congratulations!

Theology is impractical, irrelevant, and inaccessible to real people with real problems who live in the real world. Studying the doctrine of the incarnation is not going to help me pay my bills and overcome my addictions. An exploration of the relationships within the Trinity can’t possible help me with marriage and parenting.

I have both heard and, admittedly, said statements like the ones above. Preachers often boast about how we avoid theology in order to proclaim “relevant messages that really connect.” The arrogant assumption is that theological doctrines, such as the Incarnation and Trinity, are less relevant and, therefore, less important than the concerns that surface in “our world.”      

The reflective preacher realizes, however, that theology, “words about God,” will always be relevant. The doctrine of Christ’s Incarnation is God’s way of reminding the human race that we are relevant, at least to Him. Trinitarian theology highlights that God’s fundamental essence is loving relationality between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and, therefore, that the way we humans get to know and experience God is through, you guessed it, loving relationality. Could there be anything more relevant to our lives?

My recently adopted conviction is that the sermon, while it must certainly be directed toward the needs and struggles of the human race, should reveal something about the nature and will of God. If it does not, then the preacher simply becomes a therapist or self-help guru instead of a pastoral theologian who proclaims the Triune God and the Incarnate Christ to a hope-needy human race.

There are two habits that can help the preacher develop and deliver sermons that proclaim the eternally relevant God. These habits involve the asking of theological questions and the reading of theological works. Here are six theological questions that impact preaching, followed by six recommended theological books.  

Six Theological Questions for Preacher

  • What does the overall story, or meta-narrative, of the Bible reveal about the nature of God?
  • How can the sermon be faithful to what the biblical story reveals about God?
  • What does God seem to be doing in and through the biblical text?
  • How can the preacher align the sermon with the purposes of God through the text?
  • Does the sermon say anything about the Father, the Son, and/or the Holy Spirit?
  • Does the sermon present the Gospel by presenting both the problem of sin and the grace in Christ?

 Six Theological Books for Preachers:

  • On the Incarnation by Athanasius (4th Century): This work will compel the preacher to reflect upon the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, without ignoring either. Who is Jesus, is the primary question with which the preacher will wrestle while reading this work.
  • On Christian Doctrine by Augustine of Hippo (late 4th/early 5th Century): Book IV of this important work deals specifically with “The Christian Orator.” As you read this section of the book you may be surprised by its contemporary import.
  • Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas (13th Century): You probably won’t be able to read entirely this massive work, but there are several sections in this Summa (“summary”) that are well worth the preachers time including “Treatise on Gratuitous Graces.”
  • Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (16th Century): Like the Summa, this is an exhaustive theological work. The preacher will want to jump around but be sure to read Book Four: Chapter 3 which is focused on “teachers and ministers.”
  • A Plain Account of Christian Perfection by John Wesley (18th Century): Don’t let the title scare you away from this important read. Wesley emphasizes the two loves, love for God and love for people. The preacher who embodies these two loves will proclaim the Gospel with greater impact.
  • Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth (20th Century): Barth is not the easiest theologian to read, but Chapter IV “The Proclamation of the Church” is a gem worth reading and rereading. This chapter will, at the very least, guide preachers in formulating theological thoughts concerning what they believe happens in the preaching of God’s Word.  

Most of these theological resources can be accessed for free on the internet. As you read these works, be sure to reflect on them in light of the ministry of preaching. Additionally, recognize that all of the theologians above worked out their “words about God” in the context of pastoral ministry.

Theological wisdom can and should shape the mind and heart of the pastor for substantial preaching. When we read theologians who come from outside of our tradition we deepen our thoughts about God and appreciate our own particular theological tradition even more. Asking theological questions and reading theological classics does not only cultivate better preaching but, more importantly, better preachers.

EXERCISES:

  • As you prepare your next sermon, reflect on the six theological questions above and respond to each question with no more than two sentences.
  • Read one of the theologians above each week in chronological order until you have read them all. As you read, look for preaching wisdom from these classic works.  

The last ten years we have witnessed a phenomenon called “the new atheists.”  These are individuals like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins who not only do not believe in God.  They are quite militant in their disbelief to the extent that they try to proselyte believers to their “un-faith.”

Accompanying this trend is also the rise of what some call “mythicism,” whose proponents argue that Jesus himself was not truly a historical figure, but only a legendary invention.  No responsible historian will ever come to this last conclusion.  You have to want to come up with this idea to argue for it.

If mythicists can question Jesus’ very existence, we can imagine what they and neo-atheists question about the Christmas stories of Matthew and Luke.  One should not be troubled by such arguments for several reasons.  But if we are to play the historian’s game, one key feature of both Matthew and Luke stands out.  Despite the differences between the two accounts, they both have at their core one key claim: Mary conceived Jesus before she was married to Joseph.

No matter what a neo-atheist might say–no matter how many stories of Zeus and women they might mention–no Jew is likely to have made up such a story.  No hypothetical Jewish story-teller would think Jesus gained anything from a story that involved the potential scandal of sexual immorality.  So I would argue that the open-minded historian will conclude that Jesus was born amid scandal, just as Matthew and Luke say.  This fact was not lost on Matthew and Luke.  It is there in their gospels for us to notice and from which to learn.

In Matthew we hear overtones of the scandal in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1.  Four women are singled out: Tamar (1:3), Rahab and Ruth (1:5), Uriah’s wife, or Bathsheba (1:6), and Mary (1:16).  All of them except for Mary are foreigners, which suggests God’s willingness to incorporate outsiders into his people.  Many of them further suggest God’s willingness to use  those in potentially scandalous circumstances to bring about his will.  Tamar dresses up as a prostitute to get Judah to fulfill his duty (e.g., Gen. 38).  Rahab runs a house of prostitution on the wall of Jericho (Josh. 2:1).  David of course has an affair with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11).

The theme of God’s love for the marginal and dis-empowered is a major theme of Luke-Acts as a whole.  Jesus’ “inaugural address” in Luke 4 sets the tone for his ministry in the gospel, drawing from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… to bring good news to the poor” (4:18, NRSV).  Only Luke has the parables of the Rich Man and Lazarus and the Persistent Widow, which focus on God’s care for the marginal of society.  And Acts highlights the earliest church selling their excess property to give to those in need.

I suspect if any of us were planning God’s entrance to earth, we might have seriously questioned this way.  As my grandfather used to preach, we might rather want to “avoid the very appearance of evil.”  But instead, Jesus came with people whispering about him.  He came with his earthly father wondering if he should put Mary away privately. In a Christian world where “these sorts of people” are often shunned, we are shocked back to see that everyone is important to God.  The specific types of people we consider unworthy and disreputable may change from decade to decade, but the principle of God’s affection remains.  God himself came to earth not in royal robes, even if Matthew’s presentation emphasizes that he truly was king of the Jews.  He came amid “no good” shepherds, without a room to stay in.

The family that owns Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. has made a $2.5 million commitment to Indiana Wesleyan University for a new building that will house Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University.  The gift was announced by Dr. Keith Newman, IWU’s vice president for University Relations.

The IWU Board of Trustees, at a meeting in October, approved construction of the 21,000-square-foot seminary building that would include classrooms, faculty offices and a multi-purpose gathering place for students to study and fellowship.  Newman said his staff is pursuing additional funding for the building, which is estimated to cost $7 million. Construction of the seminary building could begin as early as spring of 2011.

“We are pleased to assist Indiana Wesleyan with its new seminary building because of our family’s passion and vision to see universities train young men and women in the word of God,” said Tyler Green, Ministries Coordinator for Hobby Lobby Stores.  Tyler Green is the grandson of David and Barbara Green, the founders and owners of Hobby Lobby Stores. Tyler Green and his wife, Kristin, are IWU graduates.  Hobby Lobby Stores, a private company based in Oklahoma City, operates 457 stores nationwide. The company was founded in 1972.

“We are grateful not only for this generous gift but also for the friendship that has developed in recent years between the Green family and IWU,” said IWU President Henry Smith. “Barbara Green, because of her business expertise and her passion for ministry, has been an invaluable member of the IWU Board of Trustees.”

“This gift is a double blessing,” said Dr. Wayne Schmidt, Seminary vice president. “Its generosity makes our facility a reality, and the Green family so wonderfully represents that which we value. The Seminary already is becoming known for its innovation and expansion in order to meet the needs of those it serves.”