I recently came across an older blog post by Scot McKnight about going to seminary. McKnight is one of my favorite authors and biblical scholars. He also teaches at a seminary. I respect the guy a ton! So if he says, “here are 10 reasons you should go to seminary” I listen, and I think you should too.
Here are some reasons for going to seminary:
1. Gift enhancement. Seminaries will not “gift” a person but seminaries can almost always enhance the gifts God has given to a person. I have argued for years that seminaries work best when they are populated by ministers and not by folks who think or want, but aren’t sure, if they are gifted or called. What seminaries do well is enhance gifts.
2. Biblical and Theological enhancement. Seminary students will study the Bible, the whole Bible, and that will be a first for some. And, they already have a theology; seminaries can enhance that theology, both by way of subtraction (getting rid of some careless ideas) and addition (adding better ideas). Students have the opportunity to study great theologians, and pity the seminary that assigns textbook-ish theology books, and I’m thinking here of Athanasius and Augustine, Aquinas and Anselm, Luther and Calvin (and the Anabaptists like Hubmaier), and then into the modern era with Barth and Moltmann.
3. Personal enhancement. There was a day when seminaries assumed seminary students would be praying and reading the Bible and practicing the disciplines and attending church … they assumed formation was already underway. No more. Increasingly, seminaries are making spiritual formation — personal enhancement — a part of each course in the curriculum. I will be.
4. Dedicated time. Let’s face it, to develop theologically as a minister you need time, and that’s what seminary does. In sociological terms, seminary can be a time of encapsulation: you are isolated from your work, your church, and you are holed up in a class with other students and a professor, and you wander into quiet libraries and you study — it is that dedicated time that seminaries can offer. Most pastors aren’t afforded the luxury to study in big chunks of time, so going to seminary, even if it is as a commuter, offers dedicated time. It probably won’t happen without dedicated time.
5. Access to specialists. One of the problems with seminaries is that they can take on the flavor of a research institution and its professors want to be left alone to do historical and technical research and write books and articles and monographs for the academic guild. I am proud to say at Northern, the aim is for the professors to be both specialist enough to be able to work in the guild but who are shaping their lives toward pastors, toward ministry, and toward the church. Seminaries provide specialists to ministers who need specialists on the topics of the day.
6. Theological diversity. Some seminaries (names omitted) prefer to have faculty who all think alike. I’m 100% persuaded diversity, theological diversity, is the name of the game for seminaries. No two pastors think exactly alike and no two professors think alike, and having theological diversity (within some creedal constraint) that interacts with one another sets a pattern for ministry for years to come. Taking classes from professors who don’t agree with you, or who think differently, will make you a better minister.
No, this is not a blog about how I changed my mind about evolution, however it is a blog about a book containing essays from many well known and well respected evangelicals about how they changed their mind about evolution.
This book, edited by Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump contains a numerous amount of essays from some significant names like:
James K.A. Smith
Tremper Longman III
Any book with a collection of new essays from authors like those – on any subject would already be incredibly fascinating, let alone on such a contentious subject among evangelicals, like evolution.
Most of the essays in this book are extremely personal, they recount the stories of the contributors’ journey toward accepting evolution as a viable Christian belief about creation. Many of the stories are quite typical, which some readers will find encouraging. The story typically goes something like this: 1)I was taught evolution was a godless, anti-Christian theory. 2) I became very interested in “creation science” in order to defend Christianity. 3) I actually began to learn about science and evolution. 4) I was able to reconcile my faith and this belief. 5)Conclusion: evolution, contrary to what I was taught early on, is not a threat to the faith.
One essay in particular, that I found helpful (no surprise here) in understanding the logic behind most of these “evolutions” in belief about creation, was Oliver Crisp’s essay. In his essay he outlines three principles which have helped him reflect upon how faith connects to evolution. The first is that notion of faith seeking understanding. From a position of faith we are committed to understanding our faith. The second is that all truth is God’s truth. Because God is the creator, not truth will actually be a threat to who God is, so we shouldn’t be afraid to seek truth ruthlessly. Also, this means that in principle our understanding of Scripture and since are compatible, even though we may not yet see how they are compatible. The third is that God is mysterious. Who can fathom God’s ways in providence and creation. He can create in any way he deems necessary.
So who should pick up this book? I think there are several people who need to read it. First, I think that people who don’t believe that evolution and Christianity can be compatible. I recommend this to them, not because they should read this and “believe.” Rather It would be helpful for them to see that genuine Jesus loving Christians can hold to evolutionary theory (whether or not they are correct). Second, those who feel tension in holding their belief in evolutionary theory and robust evangelical faith. Such people need exemplars who can show the way forward in how to hold both views together. Finally, people who’s “last objection” to becoming a Christian is that they need to check their rational-scientific mind at the door when coming to faith in Christ. As Oliver Crisp’s essay so clearly articulates, all truth is God’s truth. If our faith is true, and evolutionary theory is true, then this poses no threat to God whatsoever.
Book Giveaway: I would love to give out a copy of this book to whoever believes it would be helpful to their faith. In order to be eligible to win a copy of this book you can do one of several things (each will constitute one entry).
This is the most important book you may ever read outside of the Bible…
At least that’s what Derwin Gray says about A Fellowship of Differents, Scot McKnight’s new books. Now I really respect Derwin Gray and I definitely try to snatch up any new book that Scot McKnight writes – but really? The most important book you will ever read? That’s a pretty bold claim – and a really hard description to live by.
Gray has gone too far. However I will certainly agree that it is a good an important book for any believer, especially those in ministry to read. Basically McKnight helps us answer the question –
What Would Paul say to the church today?
McKnight takes the teachings of Paul, specifically his major emphases like Grace, Love, Unity, Holiness, and Flourishing and applies those themes to church life today. McKnight takes his deep understanding of the New Testament and his love for the church and gives insight into what a church that actually lives by God’s word might look like today.
Yes the book contains many criticisms of the state of the church in the West, but its all written out of a love for the church in the West. Sometimes you need someone to call out your failings so that you may grow from them.
If we want our church to become holy, we need to learn to spend time in God’s presence, basking in the light of his holiness. (119)
To love a person means that together in our mutual indwelling we strive unto kingdom realities, or Christlikeness, or holiness, or love, or full maturity in Christ. (61)
If some said, you must be kosher to eat with us, Jesus said, eat with me and I will make you kosher. (135)
The ideal Christian life is not a life of “rules and regulations,” but rather a life of irresistible, Spirit-Shaped, new creation freedom to do all God calls us to be. (149)
Faithfulness is not our own strength muscled up by determination and discipline and grit; nor is it our strength combined with God’s strength. Faithfulness happens when God’s strength is unleashed in us as we look to, lean on, and love God. (161)
So if you are looking for a primer on how to walk the Christian life in the context of community then this book is for you.
Recently a couple of biblical scholars wrote interesting articles on their blogs discussing the state of current Pauline scholarship. Scot McKnight and Michael Bird both claim that we are entering into a new stage in Pauline scholarship – we have moved past focusing on the NPP vs. Old Perspective and moved into discussions about Redemption-History vs. Apocalyptic.
The big and messy debate in Pauline studies at the moment in “salvation-history” vs. “apocalyptic” interpretations of Paul.
So what marks this apocalyptic reading of Paul? McKnight suggests several things:
The primary word is “apocalyptic” but this term is not being defined by Jewish apocalypses so much as it is almost equivalent to a cosmic, universalist redemption that has now invaded the world in Christ (the old age is shattered by the new age). Apocalyptic is associated closely with soteriology, cosmic soteriology, in this reading. God’s acting in history is heavily emphasized; the divine action is at the core of the apocalyptic Paul.
Second, theological terms are turned into cosmic powers in upper case letters: Sin, Law, Flesh, Grace (Barclay’s essay develops this), Love, Redemption. The world is the stage of a cosmic soteriological battle now won by Christ in his death and resurrection.
Third, humans are agents in this moral cosmic battle but the battle has shifted from the days of Bultmann, where it was so individualistic, to cosmic proportions. Adam is the key man, not Abraham; Law and Sin and Flesh are the categories, not the Torah of Moses; the alternatives are Christ vs. Adam and Life vs. Death.
So where should we stand in this debate? Bird is probably right when he says that:
For me the big thing is that it is not either/or since one can easily find salvation-historical and apocalyptic motifs across Paul’s letters.
I wholeheartedly agree with Bird. Both motifs certainly seem to be there. If you are looking for a great article regarding some of the concerns about the apocalyptic Paul, but concluding that both are in fact there check out Bruce McCormack’s (What! A systematic theologian!) essay “Can We Still Speak of Justification by Faith? An In house Debate with Apocalyptic Readings of Paul” for an excellent example of how these can be drawn together. You can find the essay in the new book Galatians and Christian Theology (published by Baker Academic).
Levis vs. Dockers. This is a tale of two pairs of pants. Or better yet two kinds of Christians who tend to wear two kinds of pants. In one corner you have the skinny jean wearing, tattoo flaunting, hipster eye-glassed, latte sipping Christians who think that “the Kingdom deeds good deeds done by good people in the public sector for the common good” (4). In other words the Kingdom mission means working for social justice and peace. In the other corner you have the pleated pants crew – the Docker wearing Christians who have focused all of their kingdom theorizing on two questions – “When does the Kingdom arrive?” and “Where is the Kingdom?”
Their answer to these questions is generally “The kingdom is both present and future, and the kingdom is both a rule and a realm over which God governs” (9). We might summarize their position as “kingdom = God’s redemptive rule and power at work in the world.”
In Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church Scot McKnight offers an Anabaptist interpretation of what scripture means by Kingdom of God & how that will affect the mission of the church. He concludes that kingdom means “a people governed by a king.” (66) Kingdom does not refer to rule, or a redemptive dynamic, it specifically refers to a people governed by a king. This leads to the surprising conclusion that “kingdom is a people and the church is a people, then it follows that the church people are the kingdom people… there is no kingdom outside of the church.”
This claim goes up against the evangelical consensus which has in general followed George Ladd who claims that:
The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live in it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself… the Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men and women.
The upshot of McKnight’s position is that kingdom mission is church mission, church mission is kingdom mission, and there is no kingdom mission that is not church mission. Or we might say that the criteria for deciding whether something is “mission” or not is whether it forms or enhances local churches. Something is only mission if it is about Jesus. This will certainly ruffle the feathers of the Skinny Jeans crowd.
Kingdom mission is church mission is gospeling about Jesus in the context of a church witness and loving life. Anyone who calls what they are doing “kingdom work” but does not present Jesus to others or summon others to surrender themselves to King Jesus as Lord and Savior is simply not doing kingdom mission or Kingdom work. They are probably doing good work and doing social justice, but until Jesus is made known, it is not kingdom mission. (142)
I believe that this last paragraph is the heart of this book – if its not pointing people to Jesus & if its not carried out by Jesus’ people then its not really kingdom work.
There are so many great things about this book. I love the fact that he makes a case for why all social justice isn’t necessarily kingdom work. I love the fact that he centers mission around the proclamation of King Jesus. I love the fact that he grounds his arguments in thorough readings of scripture. However despite the fact that I agree with his vision for who King Jesus is and what mission is, I can’t buy into what he sees as the implications of the gospel and mission. Before I push back on a bunch of things, let me just say that I ate up this book, I loved McKnight’s heart for the church and for proclaiming Jesus as the one and only king. In fact, I agree with Publisher’s Weekly who said that “This is must reading for church leaders today.” I really believe that this is a book that many people in my own generation, those who are drawn to a Skinny Jeans gospel, need to read. Having said that, here is where I want to push back:
The Kingdom Story is All Mixed-Up: Most evangelicals hold to a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation story of the bible. Some have ignored some key parts of this story (Abraham, Israel, Exile, etc) but in the last few years we have been improving our understanding of this big picture story. McKnight however suggests a different story. He suggests an A-B-A’ story. The Story goes: Plan A: God rules the world through is elected people but God is the one and only King. Plan B: God accommodates to Israel’s selfish desires and lets David or an Israelite king rule. Plan A’: Plan B failed, Plan A takes on a new form, with God ruling in the God-man Jesus. What is wrong with this Kingdom Story? It makes it seem as though God’s plan failed and he had to come up with a brand new plan. It makes it seem as though Jesus was not the point the whole time, as though Jesus was God’s backup. I just can’t go there.
McKnight’s Theology of Mission Needs to be Nuanced: McKnight is absolutely right, anyone who calls what they are doing “kingdom work” but does not present Jesus to others or summon others to surrender themselves to King Jesus as Lord and Savior is simply not doing kingdom mission or Kingdom work. However this position needs to be nuanced. He doesn’t do this, so I will try to offer a nuanced position for him ( I think he will agree). Here is my revision of his position: Kingdom work is work that proclaims King Jesus as Lord and Savior. Any work which proclaims the reality of Jesus’ universal reign as King – and is done by kingdom people is kingdom work. We need to remember though that proclamation need not be verbal at all times. Ultimately it will lead to verbal proclamation, but one can testify to the reality that Jesus is king without a verbal proclamation. Practically this means, that a Christian who works for an organization like Living Water International can do kingdom work because her work is done in the name of Jesus and proclaims the fact that under Jesus’ rule it is unthinkable that people would suffer from a lack of clean water. This means that a church who serves their community by opening their doors for recovery programs is doing Kingdom work because it is done in the name of Jesus by Christians. This means that the lone Christian who works in a secular non-profit that does public health education is doing Kingdom work because he is bringing God’s reign to bear (people’s health flourishing) and is doing so in an effort to proclaim “this is what life is like when Jesus reigns,” even though they might not be doing so explicitly with their words on a daily basis.
The Kingdom is Not the Church: In an effort to make his case that Kingdom = Church he quotes D.A. Carson who says that “In no instance is Kingdom to be identified with church, as if the two words can occasion become tight synonyms. Even when there is a referential overlap, the domain of ‘kingdom’ is reign, and the domain of ‘church’ is people.” I agree with Carson. McKnight believes that one day Christ will reign over all of creation, but right now Christ’s reign is only over the church. Again I have to disagree – for there is no square inch of creation over which Christ does not say “mine.” How is that reign expressed? And to what extent do we experience that reign? That is a question for another place and another day. Nevertheless we can say with Richard Mouw that:
The Kingdom is the broad range of reality over which Christ rules… Kingdom covers all those areas of reality where Christ’s rule is acknowledged by those who work to make that rule visible…The institutional church is certainly an important part of Christ’s kingdom, but the church is only one part of the Kingdom…You don’t have to go into a church to do something related to the kingdom…Wherever followers of Christ are attempting to glorify God in one or another sphere of cultural interaction, they are engaged in kingdom activity.” (Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Person Introduction)
McKnight’s Anabaptist theology will not allow him to buy into this Kuperian-Reformed view of Kingdom and culture. I believe that contrasting Mouw’s/Kuyper’s vision with McKnight’s vision of the Kingdom reveals the core of McKnight’s kingdom theology – ultimately McKnight’s kingdom theology is Anabaptist – it is one in which the Church is radically separate from the world. This means that the church does its own thing and can only stand against culture. The church and its mission cannot begin from within the system. This is exactly what McKnight sees happening with the Skinny Jeans Christians and the Pleated Pants Christians. And according to McKnight this is a big problem. Even though I do have a few problems with this book – I certainly don’t want it to come off as though I don’t recommend this book. I highly recommend this book, I honestly believe that every person in ministry should read it, primarily because it will challenge your assumptions about what “Kingdom” means, and hopefully that will lead you to come to your own conclusions.
In Kingdom Conspiracy Scot Mcknight makes an argument that the church in American has bought into the temptation of Constantinianism. This is especially evident in the form of civil religion that has emerged as Roman Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and Evangelicals have become more and more involved in furthering a particular political agenda.
Here is what he says about this civil religion which is based upon a “Judeo-Christian” Ethic.
There is no such thing as an ethic that is both “Judeo” and “Christian,” for one simple reason: the “Christian” part of the ethical question adds Jesus as Messiah, the cross as the paradigm, the resurrection as the power, the Holy Spirit as the transforming agent, the necessity of new birth, and the church as the place where God is at work. Hence, a “Judeo-Christian ethic” either strips the Christian elements or turns the “Judeo” part into a Christian ethic.
That is a pretty powerful claim. What do you make of it?