The Fundamentals of Christian Leadership and Ministry


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“Fundamental to all Christian leadership and ministry is a humble personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, devotion to him expressed in daily prayer and love for him expressed in daily obedience. Without this, Christian ministry is impossible. In addition to this, being Christ’s subordinates, we are accountable to him for our service, for he is our Lord and our judge. This fact brings both comfort and challenge.”

—John Stott, Basic Christian Leadership, 101.

In his book Reordering the Trinity, theologian and church historian Rodrick Durst shares an observation about books that has stuck with me ever since I first read it. “I subscribe to the theory that good books have a few great pages. Great books have everyone else’s great pages on that subject” (25). These simple sentences have transformed the way I read books: I’m always on the lookout for a book’s great pages and evaluating whether a book is good or great by how many great pages it has (and how many great pages from other people’s books it has).

Page 101 is one of the great pages in John Stott’s Basic Christian Leadership. I love this discussion of the fundamentals of Christian leadership. If we attempt to lead in any capacity in the church without a humble personal relationship with Christ and if our devotion and obedience are sputtering or nonexistent, how can we expect to lead others and encourage them to do the very same things we ourselves neglect?

Alec Motyer emphasizes the same critical reality, counseling that “the minister must never cease to be an ‘ordinary believer’ humbly walking with God in the light of his word” (Preaching?, 123). You never graduate from the school of prayer. There is no promotion from the necessity of regular communion with Christ.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” —John 15:5 (ESV)

Let’s abide in the Vine. This isn’t a choice between effective ministry and less effective ministry, or an abundance of fruit versus slightly less fruit. It’s fruit or nothing. Possibility or impossibility. Apart from daily abiding, there is nothing for us.

But let’s not forget that this opportunity to abide in Christ is not a checklist to complete, a law to fulfill, or a way to earn anything from our Lord. This is not a guilt trip, it is an invitation! It is not another burden to shoulder on our own, it is a burden to relinquish and lay at Christ’s feet. Ministry leadership and ministry success depend on our abiding in Christ not because our abiding earns success but because it’s our admission that we can have no lasting success without coming to Jesus. So abide in Christ and walk humbly with him, letting him produce the fruit. Follow close in his footsteps, and others will naturally come along too.

 

Quotable: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Who?


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Can we trust that the Gospels we have in the New Testament accurately represent the earliest of Christians’ beliefs about Jesus? What about claims that there were other Gospels or alternate views of Jesus that—if discovered—would change everything we thought we knew about the story of Christianity?

In a section on historical criticism of the Gospels, Craig Blomberg gives his take:

It is particularly misleading, therefore, to speak of lost Gospels or lost Christianities in ways that suggest that orthodoxy somehow suppressed viable Christian traditions or to claim that history is simply written by the winners….The apostolic tradition prevailed in large part because later, competing options never commanded widespread credibility.

—Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group), 108.

 

Agree or disagree?

Quoteworthy: Insults from the Pews


I’m trying to pass along things I find interesting, funny, or challenging in what I’m reading. In that spirit, here’s a humorous anecdote passed on by John Stott in Basic Christian Leadership:

“A story is told of Joseph Parker, who occupied the pulpit of the City Temple in London when C. H. Spurgeon was preaching in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. One day, when Parker was climbing the steps to his pulpit, a lady in the gallery threw a piece of paper at him. He picked it up and read it. It contained only one word: ‘Fool!’ Parker began his sermon with these words: ‘I have received many anonymous letters in my life. Previously they have been a text without a signature. Today for the first time I have received a signature without a text!'”

 

What about you? Ever seen something like this happen or heard something similar?

Quoteworthy: Calvin on Righteousness by Faith


Writing in his commentary on Galatians on Galatians 3:6 , Calvin clearly and succinctly lays out the start to finish of how we as Christians obtain the righteousness of God. Having brought up the question of whether or not faith is the cause of our righteousness, Calvin argues that having faith does not somehow earn or merit righteousness: righteousness is “enjoyed by faith only; and not even as a reward justly due to faith, but because we receive by faith what God freely gives.” Faith is more the mechanism through which we receive the free gift of righteousness than the proper cause of righteousness. Calvin continues:

Christ is our righteousness. The mercy of God is the cause of our righteousness. By the death and resurrection of Christ, righteousness has been procured for us. Righteousness is bestowed on us through the gospel. We obtain righteousness by faith. (emphasis added)

Beautiful.

Coming Soon: More Updates!


Hey All!

This blog has been dormant for a few months as I adjusted to commuting three days a week during my final semester of seminary. Funny how adding six to eight hours of driving each week eats up all your free time.

That period of busyness is over now! One of the consequences is that I want to write more and publish more here and have the time to do so. So look for more content here in the near future. I’m planning on more book reviews, some collections of quotes that I found interesting or thought-provoking, and posts on topics in theology, current events, and the like. Should be fun!

Book Review: “A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament”


syntaxOnce you have learned the basics of reading Koine Greek, a beginner student starts being able to read longer passages and units with only occasional help from a Greek Lexicon or Bible language software. But there are still thorny passages that defy explanation, even after several lexicons or grammars have been consulted. These threaten to frustrate and discourage the student from reading in the original language. However, resources like Charles Lee Irons’ A Syntax Guide for Readers of the New Testament attempt to fill that gap and aid the student in deciphering intermediate and difficult passages.

“The primary aim,” the introduction states, “is to provide concise explanations of syntactical, clause-level features that may not be immediately obvious to the beginner.” This is intended to be a companion resource that one reading the Greek New Testament would have open (or readily accessible) while reading in order to facilitate a smooth understanding of the text.

Does it succeed in its aim? I used the Syntax Guide in a variety of settings: in a Greek exegesis class focusing on the Sermon on the Mount, in preparation for teaching a weekly Sunday School class for adults, and for sermon preparation. I found that it in every instance I consulted it, it gave good readings for difficult passages. Most of the time it simply provides a translation. Occasionally it cites the entry in BDAG where the definition it gives for a particular word can be found and cross-referenced. And sometimes it goes even further, providing an explanation for what is going on at the grammatical level instead of just translating the difficult phrase in question.

There were times it did not cover a phrase that I hoped that it would and there were other times that it simply gave a translation instead of a longer explanation. But those were the exceptions. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the New Testament will be an excellent help to any beginning or intermediate student of New Testament Greek looking for a help in growing in their understanding of NT Greek.

4 stars out of 5


Charles Lee Irons. A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016. 629 pp. Hardcover. $39.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Book Review: “Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader” (ed. Karen H. Jobes)


dtsFor the student of Koine Greek, a natural next step after learning the basics of the New Testament would be to turn to the Septuagint, or LXX, which is the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. The LXX was the Bible for Greek-speaking Jews from the 3rd Century B.C. until the time of Christ and became the Bible of choice for Christians in the first few centuries of Church history. Its impact on not just those early believers but the New Testament itself is not to be underestimated!

But the Septuagint is a different beast than the New Testament. One jumping straight from the NT to the LXX will encounter unfamiliar vocabulary, slightly (or very different!) meanings of familiar words, and strange syntax. It would be easy to be discouraged by this and not knowing where to begin in tackling this new challenge.

Enter Discovering the Septuagint. Edited by Karen H. Jobes, who teaches New TEstament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton and has written (with Moisés Silva) an introduction to the Septuagint, this is a work intended to function as a guide for those students making the jump from the familiar waters of NT Greek to the LXX.

Discovering the Septuagint includes “more than six hundred verses of Greek selected from nine different books of the Septuagint” (9). These were chosen as representative of the various genres of the LXX as well as for their distinctiveness and also because they were referenced by NT writers (who at times preferred the LXX version to the Hebrew version).

Each section includes the printed text of the selected verses along with definitions and comments on the parsing or construction of difficult or unfamiliar parts of the verses. An English translation (NETS) follows for reference/comparison, as well as brief discussion of how the selected section is used or referenced in the New Testament.

Discovering the Septuagint fills a needed role in introducing the intermediate Greek student to how to read the Septuagint, guiding the student through important passages and helping familiarize what can be intimidating or frustrating. Jobes and company have produced an immensely helpful and straightforward all-in-one approach (i.e. you don’t need a copy of the Septuagint, an English Bible, a lexicon, and a book on the NT use of the LXX all open on your desk or even in Logos to study a given passage) to the subject that deserves a place in any serious Greek student’s library.

4 stars out of 5


Ed. Karen H. Jobes. Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016. 351 pp. Hardcover. $39.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Confessions and Musings on Matt. 23:23


“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
 
Matthew 23:23 (NIV)
 
I’ve been thinking about this verse for a few days now, as I felt convicted the moment I read it of being much closer to the way of the Pharisees here than the way of Jesus. Am I (and are we, reader?) paying attention to the small and particular matters of our faith while neglecting what Jesus here calls the more important (the “weightier” in the ESV) matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness?
 
To paint with a broad brushstroke, many of our Evangelical (though I hesitate to even use that label anymore) responses to the injustices in this world and—closer to home—the injustices here in our own country look more like the Pharisees’ actions here than they look like Jesus’ response.

Are we responding to cries that #BlackLivesMatter with choruses of #AllLivesMatter without considering how our words can burn and harm and pour salt on open wounds? Are we simply spitting out the latest factoid that we heard on NPR or FOX or our favorite podcast instead of sitting and listening in order to hear and understand? Are we making sure to have our quiet time and perfectly arrange everything so that it will look great in our Snapchat or Instagram story instead of reaching out to those in our lives to see how they are doing?

I don’t have many answers, and the ones that I do have are uncomfortable ones! But I think we the way forward is in listening, not in arguing; in lending our voice to the voiceless, not in parroting the talking heads on the news; in pursuing our own holiness but also in fighting for the wholeness of the downtrodden.  Food for thought (most of all for myself!) as we continue to engage with a hurting and broken world peopled with hurting and broken friends, neighbors, and families.

Review: “A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3” by Allen P. Ross


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I previously reviewed the volume on 1 & 2 Chronicles in the Kregel Exegetical Library and found it to be a volume very much to my liking that would make a solid addition to any pastor or student’s library. But 1 & 2 Chronicles is a relatively neglected area when it comes to good, rigorous academic work and commentaries. In contrast, there is no shortage of resources on the Psalms, which Bonhoeffer called “the prayer book of Jesus Christ” and which have given the saints throughout the ages words of comfort, solace, hope, and encouragement. How does this volume on the Psalms hold up?

In brief, it holds up excellently. If you are looking for a commentary that will serve as a one-stop-shop for your exegetical, homiletical, and devotional needs in the Psalms, this commentary would be a superb choice.

First things first: this is part of a 3-volume set on the Psalms and covers from Psalm 90 to 150. The advantage of these multi-volume commentaries is that they can go into much more detail on each Psalm. The main disadvantage is price. The three together currently cost $124.99 on Kregel’s website (though you can chop about $20 off of that by getting them individually on Amazon). So it’s a serious investment to grab them all, but I believe it could be worth it.

You see, the commentary on each Psalm contains a section with extensive notes on the Psalm’s text-critical issues, comparing the history of the Hebrew (MT) versions with the LXX, Qumran, and other extant copies. This is followed by an overview of the Psalm’s content and composition, a section-by-section and verse-by-verse exegetical analysis, and a final message and application section. There is something here for the scholar, the layman, and the preacher (though perhaps *slightly* more for the scholar and pastor).

Of course, this may be simply too much if you are looking for a commentary that only focuses on unpacking the Psalm for personal devotions or for a more thorough translation of the Psalm to a sermon or teaching form with examples that are relevant to a contemporary audience.

But unless you have a very narrow purpose you are looking for a commentary on the Psalms to assist you in achieving, this commentary functions marvelously in a variety of functions. I highly recommend it and am excited to have this in my personal library: can’t wait to use it!

5 stars out of 5


Allen P. Ross. A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3: (90-150). Kregel Exegetical Library. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2016. 1018 pp. Hardcover. $49.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Review: “40 Questions about the Historical Jesus” by C. Marvin Pate


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40 Questions About the Historical Jesus fills a niche that relatively few other books on Jesus occupy. As the book’s introduction states, “there are many books that focus only on the background issues of the relationship of the historical Jesus to the Christ of faith” (9). These are issues of the historicity of the Gospels, what we can truly know about the man named Jesus of Nazareth that lived 2,000 years ago, and the like. “On the other hand, many other fine books about Jesus only summarize his life, ministry, death and resurrection as based on the Gospels” (ibid.). So some books primarily focus on the background while others focus on the contents of the Gospels as we now have them.

Both of these approaches have their values, but this is a book that distinctly aims to incorporate both background issues to Jesus and the Gospels as well as discussing the content of the Gospels. A brief glance at the table of contents reveals how Pate goes about this: Part 1 (Questions 1-11) addresses background questions about the historical Jesus, Part 2 (Q’s 12-19) includes questions on Jesus’ birth and childhood, Part 3 (20-32) covers questions about Jesus’ life and teachings, and Part 4 (33-40) zeroes in on the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

How does the book do in accomplishing its aims? I was impressed by the scope of the questions (everything from “When was Jesus born?” to “Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?” to “What is the main message of [Matthew/Mark/Luke/John] about Jesus?”) and by the well-researched and thoughtful answers.

Of course, like most books trying to serve as an introduction and reference to a subject as vast as the background to and contents of the accounts about Jesus, this is far from an exhaustive list of questions. For example, aware of some who question whether Jesus was actually crucified on a Friday or perhaps was crucified on a Wednesday (mainly due to a rigid interpretation of “3 days and 3 nights”), I tried to find a specific answer to those exact objections here in this book. Question 37 answers “Did Jesus remain in the tomb three nights and three days?” but mainly does so by presenting positive evidence for a buried-on-Friday-raised-on-Sunday interpretation rather than answering specific claims to the contrary. This is sufficient, but not precisely what I was looking for.

Still, this is a great resource that serves as an excellent starting place for investigating questions about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

4 stars out of 5


C. Marvin Pate. 40 Questions About The Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2015. 408 pp. Paperback. $23.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!