A Wake-Up Call

It was a bright summer day in the early 1990’s. I was a young teenager learning the ropes of working outside the home. A gentleman in our church had hired me to help him build a fence and do some yard work. I liked the idea of earning some income ($3/hr., I think), but I wasn’t as keen on getting up somewhat early on a Saturday morning to accomplish my tasks. So, instead of respectfully answering my father’s directive to get up and get ready for work, I turned like a door on its hinges and complained aloud that I didn’t want to work for Mr. B that day.

What happened next exemplified my father’s God-enabled wisdom. He calmly responded that he would call Mr. B and let him know that I didn’t want to work that day and wouldn’t be coming. I froze on my bed. Disbelief and shame and regret blanketed me. I recognized the folly of my sluggardly choice, though I briefly protested and didn’t appreciate or even understand all that God was teaching me through my father in that moment. The most glaring lesson I needed to learn was the virtue of hard work. What seem like insignificant, harmless times of relaxation, if a pattern of life, will become self-destructive (Prov. 6:6-11). In retrospect, several other important lessons have emerged, ones that I am endeavoring to teach my own children.

  1. Trustworthiness is developed not granted.

My father taught me to fulfill my obligations faithfully and honestly, as much by his deeds as by his words. He could have assumed or allowed me to assume that his trustworthiness would automatically transfer to me. His genes and his instruction would position me to follow his steps. Yet, I needed to develop trustworthiness myself. I needed to be confronted with my sinful tendency to shirk responsibilities I didn’t enjoy. Studying to earn good grades or practicing jump shots were activities at which I was fairly faithful because I enjoyed them and could see how I reaped the benefits. Driving nails into fence boards wasn’t so obviously advantageous and appealing. But following through on our commitments is critical. I didn’t realize the joy of denying my fleshly inclinations and using this opportunity to subdue the earth. Instead, I looked for a way out. No one, not even my godly father, could hand me faithfulness. If I was to reflect this characteristic of God, I needed to be tested, humbled, and pointed to Christ.

  1. Words are meaningful not empty.

We have all heard of, and perhaps assumed we had verbalized, empty words–patterns of sounds that carry no meaning, like a tractor trailer carrying no cargo. Perhaps your son or daughter has explained that the clear connotation of a statement is not what he or she meant, as I suggested to my father that Saturday morning. In actuality, what we say is meaningful, whether or not we realize it. Sure, there are times when we don’t clearly communicate what we mean or when our audience has difficulty on its end in understanding us. But as we seek to we seek to raise our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), we must emphasize the importance of words.

First, our words are windows into our souls, for “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mat. 12:34). I wanted to believe and lead my father to believe that in a moment of sleepy weakness I had uttered a verbal accident. The truth, which had become apparent to him in part because he observed my life’s patterns, was that what I said that morning was exposing the needs of my sinful heart.

Second, our words are an extension of us and our trustworthiness. God speaks only the truth and demonstrates His faithfulness by invariably performing what He promises. I had agreed to help Mr. B at his home. We had verbally agreed that I would work for him on Saturdays. When I complained about getting out of bed that morning, I was prioritizing expedience over integrity. My father knew that neither rang true in this particular instance nor bode well for my path ahead. Our eternity hinges on God’s dependability. Therefore, imitating our Father requires fastening around us “the belt of truth” (Eph. 6:14).

  1. Consequences are beneficial not obstructive.

It is a natural tendency (at least of mine) to view consequences as barriers rather than potential blessings. Failure and its fallout seem to stand in the way of growth rather than being part of it. However, as Proverbs 6:23 says, “Reproofs for discipline are the way of life.” One of the worst things we could teach our children is that the spiritual laws by which God personally orders His world can be ignored and avoided. My father could have pled with me to get out of bed. He could have bribed me. He could have threatened to take action but not followed through. Instead, he chose to let me have my way and have the opportunity to acknowledge my sinfulness and repent.

I don’t know for sure, but recognizing that my father is human, I’m sure there was at least a passing temptation for him to be embarrassed. It would have seemed quite natural to persuade me to fulfill my duty and save face with his friend. But he loved me more than he loved his image, and part of that love was following our heavenly Father’s pattern of chastening. Discipline is characteristically not joyous in the moment, but “to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).

God has been very gracious to me. Mr. B kindly forgave me when I spoke with him the next morning after our church’s service. Even more profound is the reality that God my Father gave me an earthly father courageous and compassionate enough to teach me important lessons like the ones above. Oh that you and I and the coming generations may know the blessing of listening to and imparting (F)atherly instruction!

Pope Benedict XVI

No Popes for You

[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]

Protestants don’t get to have a pope.

Of course, that sounds backwards; the pope doesn’t get to have us. We don’t want him.

But if you’re honest, there have probably been times in your life when a pope would have come in handy—like when your church split over a particular doctrine, or when your best friend was totally wrong about the identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2. It’s tempting sometimes to want another word from God telling us what He really meant with the first Word. And, of course, He’d be on your side—right?

But no popes for you. In good blog form, here’s five reasons why.

  1. As many Protestants have pointed out, having a pope just means you have more authoritative declarations to interpret. Now in addition to 1,189 chapters of divine revelation written in three languages over the course of 1,500 years, you have papal encyclicals and homilies and true ex cathedra pronouncements.* And you have to learn Latin if you really want to get it right.
  2. The existence of a supreme pontiff doesn’t actually create the unity it advertises. Having a holy see certainly hasn’t kept Romanists from disagreeing, even splitting. There are over 200 Roman Catholic denominations, and among those still in the fold there are deep divisions between liberals and conservatives. The Reformers were right to argue that, when it comes to ultimate authority for the local church and the believer, it’s sola scriptura.
  3. Most importantly, of course, the sola scriptura standard won’t allow us to have a pope. We are given men with teaching and ruling authority (Eph 4:11–14; 1 Pet 5:1–5), but their authority is subordinated to the Word, not equal to it and certainly not above it. No one is allowed to add dogma (doctrine you must believe) beyond what the Bible teaches, let alone to pronounce anathemas on the biblical gospel (Gal. 1:8).
  4. Empirically speaking, what has the existence of a mitered man in St. Peter’s done for biblical literacy among his 1.2 billion followers? The 1960s council we call Vatican II has been widely credited with promoting the study of Scripture among Catholic laity, and of course Protestants ought to welcome this reform. The more Bible people get, the better. But—speaking mostly from (multi-national) personal experience but also from some statistical studies I’ve read—it seems clear to me that conservative Protestant groups have done a much better job teaching the actual content of the Bible to their people. We have a long way to go in our work of discipling the nations, but Bible study is one of the most healthy things in Protestant DNA.
  5. Lastly, T.D. Bernard once made a point that I have come back to again and again. It’s dense but excessively rich. Please read the whole thing!

    The writer [of NT epistles] does not announce a succession of revelations, or arrest the inquiries which he encounters in men’s hearts by the unanswerable formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” He arouses, he animates, he goes along with the working of men’s minds, by showing them the working of his own. He utters his own convictions, he pours forth his own experience, he appeals to others to “judge what he says,” and commends his words “to their conscience in the sight of God.” He confutes by argument rather than by authority, deduces his conclusions by processes of reasoning and establishes his points by interpretations and applications of the former Scriptures…. Why all this labor in proving what might have been decided by a simple announcement from one entrusted with the Word of God? Would not this apostolic declaration that such a statement was error, and that another was truth, have sufficed for the settlement of that particular question? Doubtless! But it would not have sufficed to train men’s minds to that thoughtfulness whereby truth becomes their own, or to educate them to the living use of the Scriptures as the constituted guide of inquiry. (The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament, pp. 157-158)

    Protestants don’t get to have a pope because God inspired epistles. And He did it on purpose. The sometimes painful and difficult work of personal biblical and theological study is meant to form us into the kind of people who think like God wants us to—not just who think what God wants us to. A pope can be an unhealthy shortcut. Bible study is a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility. Your God-given pastors and teachers should play an important role in your spiritual life, and they do bear genuine authority (1 Pet. 5:1–5; Heb. 13:7–17), but they won’t stand next to you on judgment day (2 Cor 5:10).

No popes for you.

*Not all statements from a pope are technically considered to be equally authoritative, but adopting the title of “Christ’s vicar,” the Son of God’s representative on earth, is itself a claim to teaching authority.

Love Multiplied

Cindy Garland and Grandaughter

A year ago, I found myself holding my newborn granddaughter—only she was not really my granddaughter. I had become a part of this family only seventeen months earlier, and that as a result of another’s death—and I now held that woman’s granddaughter, a little girl that will one day call me “Grandma.”

Though far more common in earlier centuries, remarriage after the death of a spouse is an uncomfortable topic for the church today. It seems—well, awkward. On the minds of many is a question they are afraid to ask: How do you love someone else again? Let me share my story, and in so doing, I hope, glorify the God who multiplies love.

I met my first husband, Steve, here at Bob Jones University. Both of us were pursuing graduate degrees, and our assistantships at the university brought us into close contact with each other. Steve impressed me as no other man had up to that point—godly, intent on serving others. However, there was one potential obstacle. Steve had been diagnosed with Hodgkins disease during his sophomore year in college, and he suffered his first recurrence of the disease during our first year of grad school. Treatments followed, and when he returned to school, we began dating. Despite the cancer, I had no doubt that God had given me a love for Steve, and in time, he had the same conviction. After a second recurrence and subsequent treatments, we were engaged. In 1989 we married, and we enjoyed six months of marriage busily serving the Lord and preparing for future ministry. Those blissful months were interrupted by the news that the cancer had returned, and for the rest of our married life, we dealt with his disease in one form or another. I suppose it was not a “normal” marriage, but I have no doubt it was the path God had for me, and I would not trade the years God gave us for anything. For nearly five years I saw a young man pursue the knowledge of God and ministry to other people despite obstacles that would have stopped many others. God even gave Steve the desire of his heart—a church to

pastor—a task he performed with all of his heart for the final ten months of his life. At the age of thirty-one, God called Steve Home, and at the age of thirty-two, I became a widow.

I will not minimize the heartbreak of losing my husband, but neither will I minimize the grace God poured out on me. Within weeks of Steve’s homegoing, God provided a ministry for me that would bring fulfillment, refining, and maturing, supervising a girls’ residence hall here at the university. Did I think about remarriage? Yes. However, in all honesty, the ministry God gave me provided so much joy and challenge that I did not have time to think much about it.

I walked the path of widowhood for seventeen years before God chose to bring someone else into my life. Doug’s path had been very different from mine. He and his first wife, Joyce, married before they finished college. God blessed them with four wonderful children. They were married for thirty-one years, all spent in Christian ministry. I was a widow for nearly twenty years; by the time we married, Doug had been a widower less than two. The main thing we shared in common was losing both of our spouses after long battles with cancer.

Doug and I were acquainted with each other since we both worked here at the university. After Joyce’s homegoing, Doug sought wisdom via email from other widowers and widows he knew, and I was one of them. Over time, our correspondence grew, as did our relationship. Mutual respect became mutual love, along with a desire to bring together two different personalities, backgrounds, and families into a new union for the glory of God. The result so far has been challenging but oh, so happy.

Shortly before we were married, a dear friend voiced the question others were (understandably) hesitant to ask: “How do you love another spouse?” Before I had a chance to answer, she said, “It must be like having more children. When you find out you’re expecting a second child, you wonder, ‘How can I ever love this child like I do the first?’ But you do. It must be like that.” I have pondered her words many times, and even though I have never had my own children, I think she was right. God’s love is like that—it is never static but is constantly expanding. When believing widows and widowers remarry, they have an opportunity to reflect this aspect of God’s love. And the precious granddaughter that I held in my arms a year ago, though not related to me by blood, has become related to me by love—God’s multiplying love.

Accommodating Evolution and the Problem of Evil

[This is a guest post by Brian Collins, who received his Ph.D. in Theology from Bob Jones University Seminary and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Brian also serves as an elder at Mount Calvary Baptist Church.]

Many Christians believe that it is important to find some way to harmonize the Bible with evolutionary theory. This belief is often linked with concerns for effective evangelism. Since evolutionary science is so widely accepted among scientists today, these Christians are worried that when faced with a choice between trusting the Bible and trusting science, many people will choose science. If conflict between evolution and Scripture can be lessened or removed, a major evangelistic obstacle will have been removed.

If the choice between the Bible and evolutionary science is indeed a false choice, then by all means evangelical scholars should show how the two harmonize. But when the attempt at harmonization is made, the necessity of the choice between the Bible and evolution quickly becomes evident.

First, biblical scholars have not been able to agree on an interpretation to replace a face-value, historical reading of the opening chapters of Genesis. This is clear in books like Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation. The lack of consensus on a replacement interpretation for these chapters raises questions about the viability of the alternative approaches.

Second, attempts to harmonize Scripture and evolutionary theory have profound theological consequences. Sometimes biblical interpretations are revised as scientific theories change. Phrases such as “the rising of the sun” (Ps. 113:3) are now understood as an idiom (one still used today) rather than a scientific description. Importantly, however, no change in hermeneutical approach to these passages was needed to make sense of these passages, and no doctrines are affected. The same is not the case with the most rigorous attempts to harmonize Genesis with the current prevailing theories of origins. Karl Giberson, in Saving Darwin, admits that a historical Adam and Eve, a historical Fall, original sin, and the distinctiveness of humans as made in the image of God are all casualties of harmonizing Genesis with evolutionary theory. All attempts at harmonization face the problem of death prior to the Fall.

Third, the problem of death and suffering before the Fall is far more serious than most theologians seem to realize. The conflict between evolution and Scripture is often seen as the chief apologetic challenge of the present time. But the chief philosophical challenge to Christianity is the problem of evil, and attempts to harmonize Scripture with evolutionary theory make defending Christianity against this challenge difficult if not impossible. The problem of evil has become more pointed as scientists learn more about certain animals’ sentience, capacity to experience pain, abilities to remember, and so forth. This has led many to conclude that animal suffering and death is a great evil. On this point the Bible is in agreement with modern science and philosophy. The Bible evidences concern for the wellbeing of animals (Prov. 12:10). The suffering of the non-human world is described as a condition of bondage, groaning, and pain as a result of sin (Rom. 8:20; Gen. 3:17-19). The earth awaits redemption (Rom. 8:23), and included in that redemption is the end of animal suffering and pain (Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25).

Traditionally, Christians have defended against the problem of animal suffering and death by pointing to the Bible’s teaching that it is a result of the Fall (Rom. 5:12; 8:20). In seeking to defend Christianity against those who say it is scientifically ill-informed, Christians who seek to harmonize the Bible and evolution have removed the biblical explanation of the problem of evil in the animal world. This problem is so significant that theologian John Feinberg, who has focused much of his research on the problem of evil, believes it is one of three theological reasons for rejecting old-earth interpretations of the creation narratives (No One Like Him, 622-23).

The challenges we face as Christians today are really nothing new. Augustine reinterpreted the opening chapters of Genesis to harmonize Scripture with Platonic cosmology. Medieval Christians struggled to harmonize the Bible’s teaching about creation with Aristotle’s teaching that the world is eternal. Modern Christians face the challenge of Darwinism. Though the cosmologies of Plato and Aristotle can be readily dismissed today, they were seen as significant challenges to the Christian faith in their time. In another 1,000 years, if the Lord tarries, Darwinisim will doubtless hold the same place that the cosmologies of Plato and Aristotle now hold, and Christians will face new challenges. This fact argues for resisting calls for exegetically-forced harmonization and theological dubious reworkings of the Christian faith in the face of shifting scientific theories.

Is Purgatory a Biblical Doctrine?

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church for 18 years. During those years my spiritual life consisted primarily in my relationship with the Church. I was planning on spending time in purgatory after my death to pay the temporal punishment for my venial sins before eventually making it to Heaven. After realizing from Scripture that salvation comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13), my faith was placed in the death of Jesus Christ as the full payment for my sin. No amount of suffering on my part can add to the complete forgiveness I now have in the truth of the Gospel(Romans 5:1).   The Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is not only absent from Scripture, but also contradicts Scripture.

The doctrine of Purgatory was first formulated by pope Gregory the Great (AD 590-604) and was confirmed as a dogma of faith at the Council of Florence in AD 1439. Although the Eastern Orthodox Church does not teach purgatory, Roman Catholics believe purgatory to be the state or condition after death where sinners receive temporal punishment for venial sins committed after baptism. “Purgatory (Lat., ‘purgare’, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgression” (Catholic Encyclopedia). Mortal sins are serious violations of God’s law (drunkenness, adultery, murder) while venial sins are less serious violations of God’s law (impatience, ordinary anger, slightly drunk). Mortal sins drive sanctifying grace out of the soul and therefore must be confessed to a priest in order to obtain absolution. Venial sins, which do displease God, only injure fellowship with Him.  The Catholic practice of suffrages, offering prayers and sacrifices for the dead, can shorten the time of suffering in purgatory for these venial sins. Also, the Pope can grant indulgences to alleviate, shorten, or terminate time in purgatory. Canon Law 992 says, “An indulgence is the remission in the sight of God of the temporal punishment due to sin, the guilt of which has already been forgiven. A member of Christ’s faithful who fulfills certain specific conditions may gain an indulgence and the help of the Church which, as ministers of redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints.”

The Roman Catholic Church uses I Corinthians 3 which speaks of the judgment of Christians at the Judgment Seat of Christ as a proof text for purgatory. In this passage a Christian’s works are  judged according to motive. The good works, gold, silver, and precious stones, are those performed for the glory of God; and the bad works, wood, hay, and stubble, are those done out of selfish motivation. Christians will be rewarded for a life lived to the glory of God and will suffer loss of reward for living for self-glorification. “The fire will try every man’s work of what sort it is.” Paul in Romans 2:7 teaches that God considers those works done out of a passion for eternity as worthy of reward. So the Judgment Seat of Christ understood in its context in 1 Corinthians 3 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 has nothing to do with temporal punishment for venial sins. The future judgment of the Christian’s works is not to pay for sin but to purge impure motives.

Another passage used by Catholics to support Purgatory is found in Colossians 1:24. They claim Paul teaches the temporal suffering in Purgatory is suggested in the phrase, “that which fills up that which is behind (lacking) of the afflictions of Christ.” Did Paul mean the suffering of Christ on the cross does not pay for all our sin? The phrase “afflictions of Christ” is never used in Scripture to express His sufferings on the cross. The suffering of Christ was both unique and complete. Since Christ’s personal suffering for sin was completed on the cross (Hebrews 9:25-26; 1 Peter 3:18), Paul is teaching that the persecution of the Church (body of Christ) today is a continuation of the persecution of Christ. As the hatred of the Head, Christ, is vented upon His body, the Church,His body shares in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). The union between Christ and His Church is a strong one. “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13).

Since no amount of suffering on the part of Christians could add to the completed work of Christ on the cross, how could a priest know when enough had been done to release a sinner from his suffering? Paul teaches that as our sins were placed upon Christ so His righteousness was placed upon the redeemed sinner (2 Corinthians 5:21).   God now looks at the Christian as having never sinned, because he is clothed in the righteousness of His Son. The writer of the Book of Hebrews can say, “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” God’s justice has been fully satisfied by the once for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrew 10:14,17).

This absence of purgatory should not lead the Christian to assume God overlooks sin.   Transgression of the law is sin and God takes sin seriously. The example of Nathan rebuking a justified man, David, demonstrates this accountability (2 Samuel 12). Repentance is necessary for the guilt to be removed and fellowship restored, but our standing before God remains unchanged because the sacrifice of Christ paid the penalty in full. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

May we rest in the blessed comfort expressed in the beautiful words of Horatio G. Spafford’s hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Indigenization in Missions

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The term indigenization is one of those buzzwords in missions that people like to talk about. But what exactly do we mean when we say that our goal is the indigenization of our missionary work on the field? The word indigenous is a botanical term which signifies “native to the soil.” So, for example, orange trees are native to the sandy soil of Florida, but not to the red clay of South Carolina. Ideally, when we talk about indigenous ministry, we are saying that we aspire to establish churches which function in ways that are native to the “soil” of the region where we have invested our missionary labor.

Do we really aspire to that though? Are we eager to develop ministry which can prosper because it is not “a foreign religion” and is not fraught with American concepts of what Christianity should look like? I fear that, more often than not, we simply want the “natives” to pay their own way and provide their own leadership, but we specifically do not want them to develop their own definitions of worldliness, dress standards, or worship style. Those things they must learn from us, because, after all, we have imported the correct biblical pattern for each of these areas. What we fail to recognize with this attitude, however, is that our practices have developed specifically because we have taken the Word of God seriously and applied it to the “soil” of our society and culture. That is to say, our concepts of modesty, appropriate entertainment, and style of worship are never formed in a direct line of adherence to biblical statements. Nowhere does the Bible address hemlines, movies or praise and worship bands, but it certainly does address modesty, holiness and reverence for the Almighty. We have indigenized the Bible’s teaching on those issues for the American church and I wholly subscribe to our fundamentalist perspective in each area. But we shouldn’t want to export to the mission field our experience of indigenization. We should seek to help local people establish their own indigenous Christianity. We should avoid what a close friend who is the director of a missionary agency focusing on advancing the Gospel in the world’s difficult places describes as “franchising” the American church.

If we truly want indigenous churches, we must focus the attention of the target people on Jesus and the Gospel, not on our patterns of church life. Teach them to understand Scripture and to appropriately apply it in their culture and society so that the Christianity that develops there is, in fact, “native to their soil.” This takes time, but it can be done, and is being done around the world. The alternative is to provide financial support for an American missionary who perennially remains as pastor of a church on the field. While he will always claim that he wants the work to become indigenous, he is constantly fearful that if he were to leave, the local people might practice their Christianity in ways that are different than what he envisioned. His problem is that he doesn’t really understand indigenization; he fails to recognize that what he is importing is itself an indigenous version of Christianity and not the ultimate standard for the entire globe.

When I was a kid in Illinois, I planted some orange seeds in a pot and was thrilled when they started to grow. The problem, of course, was that even though I could transplant the fledgling tree into larger and larger pots, I could never transplant it into the ground outside. It might grow for a few months in the summer, but it could never survive the native winter. It was not indigenous. I’m afraid that much of our missionary work is like that. We can get something to grow, but it is stifled because it will never be able to thrive without our supervision. We can delight in and defend our experience of Christianity in America, but let’s be careful to conduct our missionary efforts in a way that produces indigenous Christianity elsewhere rather than a mere transplant of what is indigenous to us.

Four New Books You Have to Know About

[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]

“New” in American culture means “good,” or at least “better.” It’s a moniker marketers never tire of using, because it works—and as long as it does, Tide detergent will reliably produce “new” formulations every so often.

But “new” is relative. The four brand new books I advertised in my title are startlingly new, but in at least two senses, they’re also quite old.

It’s time you were jolted typographically awake by four very new books rooted in very old traditions. I’m speaking of Bibliotheca, a Kickstarter (“crowdfunded“) project to produce a four-volume printing of the Bible in an innovative old way.

Designer Adam Greene, a young man steeped in the history of typography, is the force behind the project. The best way to communicate to you what’s new and old about his work is to show it to you.

First the outside:


Now the inside:


And again:


What do you see in this Bible? Or, rather, what do you not see?

You don’t see all the accoutrements you’ve come to view as normal, standard in a printing of the Bible. That’s what’s so new about Greene’s project.

c902_SCOclassic_inside2__4And that’s what’s so old—you see, we all have historical myopia when it comes to Bible editions. We are accustomed to a two-column format in which every verse is a separate paragraph and in which each page is packed with verse numbers and multiple systems of superscript footnoting1 and2 cross-referencing.a b We forget, however, that things were not always so. Verse numbers are a comparatively recent addition to the Bible text. If the Bible were a 65-year-old man, verse numbers were added when he was 56 ½. They’ve been around for about a tenth of the Bible’s history.

What does the standard two-column layout do to meaning? Arguably, it does something very bad: it not-so-subtly leads readers to view the “verse,” whatever that is, as the fundamental unit of Bible statement. (Whenever they’re not viewing the word that way—see Barr quote here.) Making every verse a paragraph is an invitation to atomistic exegesis. It doesn’t help you read with sensitivity to the context.

You simply must try reading a Bible with no chapter and verse numbers at all. It is a beautiful and helpful experience—if initially jarring. I began creating this experience for myself using a Microsoft Word macro about ten years ago. And, providentially, a slow trickle of Bible editions began coming out which made that experience available in codex form. My favorite of the lot is the also-new ESV Reader’s Bible from Crossway (the ESV website also has this functionality), but the Bibliotheca project is even better—it just uses a translation I’m less excited about, the 1901 ASV. (And it would cost me 15 months of my recently reduced book budget…=)

If you’re not sold yet, watch the video. It’s brand new!

The Priority of Personal Evangelism

In October of last year I preached a short and simple Bible message in our university chapel on the priority of personal evangelism from II Corinthians 3:18-4:7.

In this passage Paul presents the calling of believers.

  1. God Calls Believers to Be Christlike. God calls us to be like Jesus Christ, which includes developing a compassionate heart for the lost like His (II Cor. 3:18). (John 4 is a striking illustration of Jesus’ compassion.)
  2. God Calls Believers to Be Courageous. God calls us to not faint, to not lose heart, in our lives and ministry, so we must draw upon God’s unfailing strength (4:1, 16-18).
  3. God Calls Believers to Be Clear. God calls us to reject all false teaching, false “gospels,” and man-centered manipulation (4:2; cf. 2:17) and be clear and in our presentation of the gospel.
  4. God Calls Believers to Be Confident. God calls us to understand the difficulty of our challenge (4:3-4). God calls to have confidence in the supernatural power of Christ to save others, just as He has saved us. We preach Christ! (4:5-7).

The week after I preached that message I flew to Seattle to speak in some youth leadership conferences. I was praying that God would allow me to lead someone to Himself. On the flight from Detroit to Seattle I was seated in the middle seat of three seats. To my right was a young mother. She liked to travel and showed me some photos of her travels. I showed her some photos on my iPad from a trip my wife and I took to Israel, especially a photo of us at Gordon’s Calvary from the Garden Tomb area.   The woman had been reading a Bible her cousin gave her, and the Lord was preparing her heart for our conversation. She listened carefully as I took much time to explain the gospel thoroughly to her.

She asked why Jews do not receive Jesus as their Messiah. I took her back to II Corinthians 3 and 4 and explained the blindness of unbelief that veils the Jewish, and for that matter, the Gentile heart. It occurred to me as I explained this passage to her that God was opening her eyes to the gospel as I spoke. I asked her, “Do you believe that God is drawing you to Himself?” She answered “yes.”   I said, “Would you like to receive Christ now?” She said “I would.” She prayed aloud (her choice) as I led in the sinner’s prayer. I talked further with her, gave her follow-up material, and recommended a church for her, whose pastor is seeking to help her.   I called my wife right after getting off of the plane to share the great news with her.

Sometimes we complicate the simplicity of personal evangelism. I like what one of our missionary graduates says about reaching others: “Pray, meet people, tell them about Jesus.” It’s just that simple.

Bob Jones University was founded by evangelist, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., who said, “It takes evangelistic unction to make orthodoxy function.” Today we are still trying to instill an evangelistic spirit in our students. Dr. Bob Jones III reminds our students on a regular basis that “the most sobering reality in the world today is that people are dying and going to hell today.”

What is evangelism? Evangelism is the proclaiming of the good news that the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again to pay fully and finally the penalty of sin (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). Evangelism applies His saving work to the sin­ner’s need of forgiveness and escape from the awful, eternal wrath of God in the lake of fire. The sinner is urged to repent (Luke 13:3; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 20:21) and believe (Acts 16:31). The Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of his need (John 16:7-11). The sinner calls on the Lord to save him from sin’s penalty in hell unto salvation and its sure promise of eternal life in heaven. He experienc­es the new birth and obtains new life (John 3:3-8). Salvation results in a thor­ough change of life which will affect every area of life (2 Cor. 5:17).

The New Testament not only emphasizes evangelism but also discipleship. Discipleship is the process of teaching the believer Bible truth, with an emphasis upon both sound doctrine and living. Acts 16:5 captures the spirit of evangelism and discipleship: “And so were the churches established in the faith and increased in number daily.”

Good evangelism produces new disciples, and good discipleship produces vibrant evangelism.

A Few Tech Tools Every Small Church Should Have

[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]

We live in an Internet world. If your church doesn’t have a website, it’s invisible. If it has a bad website, well, there’s something worse than invisible.

Even the smallest church needs some tech tools to make itself credibly visible to its community. At least in America, it’s a matter of your testimony for Christ. It’s that serious.

But a credible Internet presence requires a few more tools than just a website. Here is my short list of essential tech tools your small church needs, divided into four categories:

1. Internet

240px-WordPress_logo.svgYou need a WordPress website. Total cost: $500+. Honestly, you probably need a professional to work with you no matter what kind of website you choose. I can give you names of companies who are dirt cheap but do good work. (I own one of them, or I’d tell you the names.) If you positively refuse to consider hiring someone, Squarespace is my recommendation. If, on the other hand, you’re that rare small church with a sizable endowment from a wealthy former parishioner, I recommend Church Plant Media and Your Creative People. You get what you pay for with them: excellent work. And by the way, you need a logo, too—and only a professional can make a nice one. You might, however, get away with buying a stock logo.

2. Photography

d3100You need a Nikon D3100 with the kit lens, a zoom lens, a camera bag, and a tripod. Total cost: $600 if you shop a little (try Craigslist). Every church should have a D3100 that is owned by the church and cared for by a designated photographer. But youth leaders and Bible club leaders should have access to it and should get a little bit of training on how to use it. And they should use it, and regularly. I have used mine to shoot weddings, church directory pics, Bible club shots—anything a church could want. I pretend to be a pro, and a lot of people believe me, but the truth is that I only ever shoot in auto mode. (I do post-processing like the pros, however—and if you have an artistic person in the church you might consider doing the same.) Make updating photos on your Facebook page and/or website an important ministry, one you would never neglect, like changing the messages on your church sign.

3. Video

You need a Nikon D3100. Yes, a D3100 also does video. But only on a tripod and only with adequate lighting. And the microphone in the camera is not meant to do much (see “Audio” below). Doing good video is not easy, but with a little bit of Internet research you can set up a believable lighting system to at least do a talking-head interview like this one. That’s probably all the good video you’ll ever need. For videos of camp you don’t have to get fancy. The D3100 will do fine. You mainly want it for photos.

Adobe has also come out with a great iPad app that will allow you to make a promo video without shooting any actual footage. As always, use the people in the church who are gifted artistically to do this.

You probably need a projector; maybe not. This is the top-seller on Amazon right now.

4. Audio

jpegYou need a Zoom H2n. Cost: $160. I use the Zoom H2 (the previous version of the Zoom H2n) when taking video, and it sounds fantastic, very professional. Don’t ever try to take a serious video—like a welcome-I’m-the-pastor video—without one. It will sound terrible. And the Zoom H2n can take great sermon recordings. It puts them right onto an SD card, making it easy to upload sermons to your website or to a service like SermonAudio. An Apple iPad can actually take very passable audio recordings, too—unless the pastor wanders around the pulpit a great deal.


There is a very definite generation gap between pastors who value the Internet and those who don’t. I’m genuinely not sure that my (younger) generation is right to value it so highly, but I can tell you that potential visitors do. They will judge you by your website. As a web designer, I have heard more than once that a church’s website was the sole reason a family decided to visit. And the photography, video, and audio on that site are an integral part of your face—quite literally—the whole world. Use gifted people in your assembly and commit some money to it. It’s the world we live in now.

The Lord’s Supper: a Meaningful Ordinance

Roman Catholics claim to have a more meaningful celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) than Protestants and have used this to attract many converts, some from Protestant backgrounds, to the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic view of transubstantiation teaches that the elements of Communion become the literal body and blood of Christ, if true, would make the Eucharist a significant ceremony.   Catholics believe Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained under the elements (Pope Pius IV 1564). The mass is defined as the “unbloody sacrifice” of Christ. The Biblical problem with transubstantiation is its failure to recognize the symbolic nature of Christ’s words, “This is my body” and to recognize the finality and completeness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (Hebrew 9:25-28; 10:10-14).

The Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation was not officially proclaimed until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. The presence of Christ in communion was a great controversy during the Carolingian period when Paschasius Radbertus declared the elements were transformed into the body and blood of Christ while another monk of Corbie, Ratramnus, denied a physical presence.

Protestants who reject the actual presence of Christ in the elements can be guilty of making the Lord’s Supper a mere ritual devoid of any spiritual significance. Paul considered the Lord’s Supper to be a serious celebration and issues a grave warning to those who participate in an unworthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). Even though the elements are symbols of the broken body and shed blood of Christ, the service should be conducted as a genuine remembrance of the believer’s participation in the benefits of the death of Christ as well as a time of spiritual nourishment, self-examination and reaffirmation of one’s faith in Christ. Pastors should encourage members to prepare themselves during the week to be ready to participate in a worthy manner and in a unity of spirit.

Today we have no need for any additional sacrifices, whether bloody or unbloody. When Christ upon the cross cried out, “It is finished,” the atonement was completed; however, Christians do need to follow our Lord’s instruction to remember His death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).  Rather than treating Communion as a shallow or meaningless ritual, Christians can and should celebrate it as the spiritual feast of fellowship in remembrance of our Lord’s suffering on the cross that it was intended to be.