Get Ordained, Pastor!

OrdainedThis may seem a bit radical for my fellowship (Assemblies of God), but I would like to go on the record as saying that  ordination ought to be the aim of every pastor and not because of education, credentials, or prestige, but because it offers a testimony of faithfulness (at some level). To be ordained (in my tradition) requires one to be in ministry for a minimum of 2 years and a few extra courses (if one didn’t go through one of our official schools). This is quite minimal. I was ordained at 25 and would have been ordained at 24 except I was short of the two years by a couple of weeks (don’t get me started on that one).

I have a friend who has changed fellowships after much praying and seeking and is in a LONG process of seeking ordination in her new fellowship (Anglican). I’ve spoken with her several times about their process and it is a doozy. But I’m excited for her going through the process and seeking the affirmation that I believe is already hers in her years of faithful ministry up to this point. It will be wonderful when her bishop places his hands on her (do they do that in her tradition? No clue, but let’s pretend anyways) as testimony of her calling and faithfulness to the call.

So why should you seek ordination?

  • Seek ordination as an affirmation of God’s calling on your life.
  • Seek ordination as a call to greater discipleship.
  • Seek ordination as a testimony from those you serve concerning your faithfulness.
  • Seek ordination as a deeper commitment to your fellowship and its continuing maturation.

The problem that I’ve seen is that too many pastors who aren’t ordained in my fellowship look at it like they should never seek it. Like it is only about having to pay more fees (it does require that). Like it may mean more responsibility (it might if you then get elected to a sectional or district position which can only happen by being ordained). That’s just silliness. We should want to be tested and proven in our calling and ministry. We should desire to be the best minister we can be. Ordination does not guarantee this by any stretch, but a good minister should have NO reason to avoid ordination as early as possible. Be faithful where the Lord has placed you and let others affirm this through the process of being ordained! :-)

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Originally blogged by me at bluechippastors.org on April 27, 2013.

A Word to Pastors For Pastors From a Pastor

As I was preparing for teaching the Senior Seminar – Ministerial course this semester I spent some time just reading, praying and meditating on Paul’s brief time with the Ephesian elders on his trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20.18-38). I like to jot down thoughts as they come at me and these are some of the pastoral thoughts I see and hear from the apostle that offer a reminder to me of my responsibility in pastoring and my call to pastors-in-training. While they are not intended as either comprehensive (or even necessarily belonging to the intent of the text from Luke) I believe they offer some bit of wisdom in considering this calling. And so I shared these words with my students last night as preparatory for their final ministerial course and the move toward pastoring.

  • Work with humility for the Lord
  • Offer your broken and costly service
  • Preach the Lord Jesus boldly
  • Be led by the Spirit
  • Endure
  • Be faithful
  • Guard yourselves and the flock committed to you – feeding and shepherding them for good and against false teachers
  • Entrust yourself and the church to God
  • Do not be greedy, but work hard in order to give
  • Give yourself to prayer with (and for) the church
  • Embrace the church as family

I pray that I indeed live up to such a high and holy calling and faithfully fulfill all the Lord has put into my hands to do. May he keep his Church. And may his Church know the fellowship of his sufferings and the joy of his life-giving victory.

1 Kings: For the Person in the Pew (A Review)

Jim West
Photo courtesy of Joel Watts and Facebook. :-)

Jim West (ThD; Professor of Biblical Studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology) has written an easily read commentary on the entirety of the Old Testament of which I have reviewed his commentary on 1 Kings. West has proven himself to be a capable scholar of the ancient Near East, but more importantly of the texts of Scripture and as a preacher of said texts. He has written extensively on Scripture (including this commentary series covering the entirety of the Bible) and is perhaps one of the foremost and most prolific of bibliobloggers today. West shows considerable concern for the average church goer in his writing of this commentary both in the use of language, brevity and pastoral injunctions.

the-person-the-pew-commentary-series

West here offers some of the most concise and on-point comments of any commentary I’ve read on 1 Kings. He writes with the skill of an artisan even as he limits his own comments to a minimum. Where he becomes prosaic is in the quoting of other commentaries (sometimes at length), but even more so in his not to be missed excurses (on such topics as suicide and theodicy) which offer delectables neatly prepared for consumption to those wanting more.

Several of the features which make this volume less helpful would firstly include the choice of translation (the RV) which is all but out of use by the Church and uses unhelpfully antiquated language. While West claims it is perhaps “one of the best ever produced” this offers little consolation to the contemporary reader in the pew who neither is likely to use it or to understand its language (and if they prefer such dated language likely already prefer the KJV).

Several other features which would greatly benefit this series: listing the excurses on the table of contents page, including a bit more detail in the introduction, and indicating the chapter being discussed somewhere on the page. The introduction at least offers a very basic indication of West’s ideas about the text, but could perhaps use some further boiling down of the overall theological themes of 2 Kings. On passage number citations, if one stops reading and then takes it up again it takes some searching to find the correct chapter/passage.

One final lamentable feature of this series: West opts too often to refer to deity as “God” even when the very point being made is to be made by using the divine name YHWH (Yahweh, or even as his translation of choice has it: LORD). This seems to be all to common a mistake (and not a trifling one) in commentaries of all varieties. While this may be missed by many readers “in the pew” it continues to validate notions of the generic sense of “God” rather than specifically the God of Israel, YHWH, who makes and keeps covenant by that name and whom the writers are specific to point to by that name. A point which he seems to understand when he points clearly to Yahweh as God on pages 122-123.

On page 117, West improperly states that there would be no more raising of the dead after Elijah until the time of Jesus. Though he must have written the commentary covering 2 Kings 4 where one encounters Elisha raising the Shunnamite’s son.

Overall, West is to be commended for producing among the most readable commentaries on 1 Kings and thus deserving of a wider readership. His work highlights throughout its pages many key ideas and could likely inspire further reflection upon the text proper. One cannot but help to hear the word of a preacher speaking as a prophet of the LORD and calling the community to faithful obedience in the voice of Jim West’s many comments. May this commentary bear fruit in the Church.

Misreading Bonhoeffer: A Response

Bonhoeffer

I was recently alerted (via Facebook) to an article by Richard Weikart, “The Troubling Truth about Bonhoeffer’s Theology,” Christian Research Journal 35.6 (2012) which can be read HERE.

It seems Weikart initially felt quite happy with Bonhoeffer while he thought him an “Evangelical,” but quickly dismissed him once he came to see him as “Neo-Orthodox” (pp.1-2). What makes this so troubling is that neither category is fitting for this early twentieth century German Lutheran minister theologian, but seem more concerned with categories of Americans intent on dismissing folks by use of labels. That being said, Weikart expresses numerous points at which he finds trouble with Bonhoeffer.

Under the heading of Scripture, Weikart quotes Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, “Scripture belongs essentially to the preaching office, but preaching belongs to the congregation. Scripture must be interpreted and preached. In its essence it is not a book of edification for the congregation.” He then proceeds to argue this is not true to Luther (on the “priesthood of all believers) or Lutherans. But this type of belief about the place of the proclaimed word and its potency is precisely Lutheran. Weikart seems to not realize the place of the preached word in Lutheran theology proper or in the theology of Luther. For Luther (and thus Lutherans in his wake), it is the proclaimed word of God where one hears the voice of Christ. Such is the case with Bonhoeffer.

Where Weikart accuses Bonhoeffer of moving from his earlier reading of Scripture with regularity, he seems oblivious to Bonhoeffer’s opposition to the spiritualizations of the pietistic Lutheran practices with which he had at first been fostered into and only later came to see the pietism often did not result in greater faithfulness, but only a higher sense of spiritualized success all the while avoiding taking responsibility in the life of the world (see his many such comments on this in Ethics). There is in fact nothing wrong with not reading Scripture daily. Jesus didn’t. He couldn’t. What is imperative is that we meditate upon Scripture, hear it and obey it. The Scriptures nowhere demand daily Bible reading. That is a matter of pietistic Evangelicalism that has learned to think such a practice is a requirement of genuine spirituality. Bonhoeffer seems to have understood this at deeply sustained levels.

While many (in the U.S.) regard Barth as “neo-orthodox” this is not owing to Barth himself, but to early American interpreters of Barth who either failed to understand him or misrepresented him. It is easier to just lump him in with others who are also rejected without wrestling with what he has actually written.

Under his attack on Bonhoeffer’s (and Barth’s) view of Scripture, Weikart misses that the Scriptures are recorded not as transcripts, but as careful theological reflections of the revelation of God concerning the stories of Israel, Jesus, the Church and the world. The Scriptures are not attempting to document empirically verifiable history, but instead that which must be believed by faith which is offered sufficient witness to believe. Weikart’s view seems to be more intent on historicality (even when the text itself does not warrant it, nor the preservation of the text) rather than the realities to which the text points in the manner in which the writers were inspired to record them.

Further, what Bonhoeffer rejects of the emphasis upon trying to speak of the “historical” with regard to Jesus is that 19th-20th century German obsession with doing just that. This led to a number of notions such as a bifurcation of the Jesus between that of history and that of faith, or worse yet, an eradication of the historical Jesus altogether. Bonhoeffer was responding in just that sort of milieu. And he responded by pointing to faith in the preserved stories of Jesus regardless of the ability to historically verify details beyond the witnesses of the texts themselves.

Weikart’s use of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison shows an utter disregard for the writings of one in a personal letter to another that was NOT intended for public consumption. If any of us had things we said privately preserved by others after our death and disseminated globally we would find ourselves having stated things which we were wrestling with and/or were not offered with the context of explanation (because it is assumed the person spoken to knows this sufficiently to understand). Judgment of all of us would ensue.

Under the title “The Good Book,” Weikart fails to grasp Bonhoeffer’s rejection of Scripture as offering “universal, timeless truths”. Bonhoeffer is convinced that to treat Scripture as offering such, is to pre-determine what God would have us to do in any and every situation. But this (for Bonhoeffer and for myself) ignores the living word of the living God who speaks today through that word to us. It makes a binding law of the word of Jesus. It means one is no longer required to attune their ears to the Spirit, but only to reread words written. It is on this very idea, that I have personally found life and joy in Christ and proclaim that we are not through listening as if we have heard all there is to hear…NO! We must go on listening anew today!

On Weikart’s claim of universalism, he fails to engage the very “this-worldly” notion of redemption at work in Scripture and the theology of Bonhoeffer. Instead, he seems to think more of spiritualized heavenly individualistic salvation. Bonhoeffer, however, was concerned with the redemption of the cosmos that was enacted in Christ Jesus. Bonhoeffer was concerned with “people” and not simply individuals and he was concerned with this precisely because of the election of Jesus wherein all of humanity finds redemption. This is not to say all are saved, but to say that in Christ salvation is sufficient for all and is extended to all and must be declared to all. The pastoral and missiological implications of this are profound.

I for one find little to judge negatively of Bonhoeffer’s reflections stated by Weikart, but maybe, just maybe, I’ve become one of Weikart’s “liberal” “neo-orthodox” folks he seems so adamant are to be despised and rejected. Or maybe Weikart is simply judging Bonhoeffer by means of his own skewed theological and ideological agenda rather than on grounds of truthful discourse that hears Bonhoeffer in Bonhoeffer’s own context. To those who have ears to hear…

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My apologies for not citing Bonhoeffer’s works throughout. This is more of an overall response (without direct access to Bonhoeffer’s works from my home). For those interested in reading Bonhoeffer in context, they can read the pages cited by Weikart as well as reflecting particularly on Bonhoeffer’s Ethics which answers (for myself) the misreading of Bonhoeffer contra much of American Evangelicalism and its inherited pieties.

Readings in Theology

With the proliferation of resources currently available online, there is a growing need to have access to resources which are both credible and actually helpful. Thankfully there are some who work to make such resources available (like Rob Bradshaw…and this is also a passion of mine though I have not done the work of Bradshaw). As part of the open access to resources continues (hopefully in increasing measure and for resources which actually benefit the Church and world), I determined to make proper use of such.

As a part of this open access I am teaching a course this semester as an independent study that I am elated about: Readings in Theology. Here is the course description along with its objectives:

This course is constructed to offer readings in theology in conversation with the instructor while engaging various authors and theological traditions of the Church both historic and contemporary.

Upon successful completion of this course, the student should be able to:

  • Understand and articulate various proposals and trajectories in historic and contemporary theology,
  • Discuss some of the proposals and critiques of various theologies and theologians, and
  • Articulate a theology that is framed in conversation with the wider Church.

I am using solely articles available free online (via the 30,000+ resources at http://theologyontheweb.org.uk/) to facilitate weekly conversations about the given topic and for the student to engage through critical reflection. So I thought I’d share the syllabus for anyone interested in following along. :-)

The readings are all hyperlinked for ease of access.

Readings in Theology Winter 2016 Syllabus

A Little Reading for 2016

HermeneuticsAs I look to the coming years and what the Lord might allow me to do, I like to plan ahead what I might be able to read. The types of things which give direction to my choice of books are the projects I’m currently working on (or interested in potentially working on) and, now that I’ve been teaching, those subjects which I have and will teach. For whatever it is worth, I always welcome reading recommendations (but know that my Amazon wishlists contain somewhere in the vicinity of 300+ titles already :-) ). So here are a few of the volumes I will be reading in 2016 to be “discipled” further in several areas.

Hermeneutics

Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.

Bartholomew, Craig G. Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015.

Ricœur, Paul. Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1976.

Ricœur, Paul. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Preaching

Alcántara, Jared E. Crossover Preaching: Intercultural-Improvisational Homiletics in Conversation with Gardner C. Taylor. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015.

Witherup, Doug. Interrobang Preaching: A Renewed Homiletic for the Twenty-First-Century Church. NC: Witherup, 2014.

Theology (just for fun)

Diller, Kevin. Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.

Isgrigg, Daniel D. Pilgrimage into Pentecost: The Pneumatological Legacy of Howard M. Ervin. Tulsa, OK: Word & Spirit Press, 2008.

Spencer, Archie J. The Analogy of Faith: The Quest for God’s Speakability. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015.

So what books are you scheduling to read in the next year to develop in specific areas of your life and calling?

Invest in Your Library

booksI love books! It is no secret. Anyone who knows me knows that I love books. But here is the deal…as much as I love books, when I first began pastoring I told myself I just didn’t have the budget to buy books for preaching, counseling, discipleship, leading, pastoring, imagination-development, literary interest, etc. I bought into the lie that I’ve heard many other pastors embrace. Then one day it dawned on me: This is my life calling! Why would I NOT invest in it. So I’ve made a point since then to build a strong pastoral library (and actually read the books I buy ;-) ).

As I was reading the latest minister’s journal put out by the Assemblies of God I found this brief sidebar a helpful recommendation along the lines of which I’ve already mentioned, so I thought I’d share these “rules” for building a better preaching library…after all…EVERY pastor needs ongoing personal and ministerial development, and every church needs the same of their pastors.

Eight Rules For Building a Preaching Library

  1. Make your preaching library a priority. Readers are leaders. John Wesley said to his preachers, “Read or get out of the ministry.”
  2. Buy books that fit you and your ministry. Know yourself. If you do not have knowledge of biblical languages, do not buy technical commentaries. Buy books that profit you, not books that impress others. Books are tools, not museum pieces.
  3. Read and use the books you buy. Some books will just be acquaintances, while others will become best friends. I have some books I have read one time; I have other books I read and then reread frequently. The latter books are good friends. I know them well.
  4. Lead your church to work your book purchases into the church budget. A good preaching library will take money, but results in your wisdom and preaching (and your members’ growth) is well worth it.
  5. Visit Amazon.com and used bookstores for great prices. I paid 35 cents for a sought-after book at a used book sale that retails new for $36.
  6. Examine your current library. Do not just buy books that fit your favorite hobbyhorse theology. Where do you have holes in your library? Old Testament commentaries? New Testament commentaries? Prophecy? Spiritual warfare? Buy books that fill those holes.
  7. E-mail 10 preacher friends and ask them to suggest the best five books they have read recently. Ask them why that book lit their spiritual fire. Then buy some of those books.
  8. Be reading a book or two constantly. Paul, the older man, told Timothy to come to him and “bring the books.” I know a great preacher who took a briefcase of books with him on his honeymoon. (And yes, he still has a terrific marriage.)

THOMAS LINDBERG, D.Min, Cordova, Tennessee [Enrichment 18:1 (Winter 2013): 71]

I am intentional about purchasing commentaries that fall into a spectrum of categories (technical, pastoral, theological) as I preach through text series (not to mention other Biblical studies resources). I am also intentional to develop theologically (historical, systematic, dogmatic, Pentecostal, ecumenical, etc.). An area in particular that I know myself to be weak in is the trends and more popular writings (I often joke that I only read the books of “dead guys”)…so I’ve been intentional to ask around about what is actually considered “good” [i.e., useful] (by asking a few pastor-friends who keep up on such things and whom I see as trustworthy for such recommendations). I also follow numerous blogs, but doing so only orients me to what is happening in the wider world of literature and not to replace building a library that can be accessed any time in the future as need arises.

So what do you do to develop a library? library

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Originally published at bluechippastor.org on January 24, 2013.