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.

Recommended Books on Missions

Missions can be incredibly simple while at the same time be incredibly complex. It truly is as simple as “Pray, meet people, and tell them about Jesus” as my friend David H., pioneer missionary likes to say. At the same time, the intricacies of language and culture, the maneuvering through seemingly impermeable worldviews and the maze of religious variations involved in communicating Christ in cross-cultural settings are overwhelming. As a missionary educator, I highly recommend that those who pursue missions as a vocation receive as much missiological preparation as possible. BJU’s Cross-Cultural Service major provides an excellent foundation for missionary service. But many who are willing to serve will not have the opportunity to benefit from a program of formal missiological education. They can, nonetheless, reap great reward by reading good books about missions.

Good books are like good friends. They play a valuable role in your life, and it is hard to choose which ones you treasure most. I want to introduce you to several books which are at the top of my list and which have had the greatest input into my understanding of, and enthusiasm for missions.

allenAt the top of my list is a book which has been cherished by missiologists for many decades, Roland Allen’s foundational treatise, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Allen, a missionary to China in the late 19th century, was an Anglican priest who wrestled with the relationship between the religious structure of his tradition and the expansion of the Gospel on the mission field. His study of the Apostle Paul’s methodology develops principles that are applicable for missionaries from any background in any time period. The salient foci of his work are that Paul had confidence in the Word of God and the Spirit of God, and so should we. Our role in missions is to enable local believers to accomplish the work of the Gospel by bringing them the Word and teaching them to depend on the Spirit.

passingbatonA similar theme is found in a book which highly influenced my missionary perspective at the beginning of my teaching career. Passing the Baton by Tom A. Steffen addresses the reality that while many missionaries are very adept at starting a ministry and developing a ministry, they are often unprepared to transfer their role to indigenous leadership. Steffen argues that this is not so much a question of poor philosophy, but of poor planning and ineffective strategy. Much of his book deals somewhat narrowly with his own experience among tribal people, but his essential teaching about beginning a missionary ministry with an exit strategy in view is outstanding.

nationsgladNext in the list is John Piper’s work, Let the Nations Be Glad. Now in its 3rd edition, this book has proven to be a highly influential resource for communicating a basic theology of missions. To be sure, Piper’s Reformed perspective is strongly felt, but his careful and joyful overview of the Bible’s teaching on missions should be appreciated by all who long to see the peoples of the earth worshipping their Creator.



schnabelNo book has shaped my understanding of New Testament missions more than the exegetical work, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods by Eckhard J. Schnabel. Applying his considerable scholarship to understanding the times and events of the early church, Schnabel’s tome challenges me to think critically about the Apostle Paul and his central role as the paradigmatic missionary. More of an academic corrective than a motivational or practical guide to missions, this book is a must read for those who want to hone their thinking about Paul’s axiomatic ministry.

barrettFor those who want an excellent, solidly evangelical guide to missionary philosophy and strategy in one volume, Mike Barnett has edited the recently published Discovering the Mission of God, Best Missional Practices for the 21st Century. I like this book a lot. If someone asked me to recommend only one book which could provide a foundational understanding of New Testament missions, it would be this one. It’s not short, and I would not endorse every contributor, but no one book in my library covers the general subject of missions more satisfactorily than Barnett’s.

lanierFinally, let me acquaint you with a delightful little book about interacting with other cultures. I have many books about cultural integration. For me, these are just fun to read. Though not exhaustive or erudite, Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier is an excellent primer about how people from different cultures think. Other books on this topic are more detailed, but none are more fun to read. Even though this technically is not a missions book, it would be a great starting place for mission teams, short term missionaries, or even as a first read about culture for career personnel. It’s accessible, enlightening and enjoyable.

If you would like to interact about other helpful books about missions, feel free to contact me at

He Is Risen!

1 Cor. 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead.

One Saturday afternoon just before Easter Sunday, I walked through an old cemetery to prepare my heart for preaching on the resurrection. The stone slabs were etched with names and dates as if to make one final attempt to lengthen the significance, memory, and influence of lives ended by death. That afternoon as the gentle, Spring breeze blew off the quiet lake nearby, the stark reality of the curse and the harsh finality of death scoffed at my faith and the sermon I had prepared for the next day.

In the midst of that desolate, deserted cemetery, there was one tombstone that stood out from the others and arrested my attention. Like the others, the front of that white, marble monument gave the name and the dates of a man’s life; but the back expressed a powerful three-word phrase that brought light and hope to my heart and a joyful “Hallelujah” tumbling from my lips in the face of the devil’s scoffing sneer. The line?

“He Is Risen.”

He is risen! That’s it; but that’s all that’s needed. He is risen! That’s the one brilliant light that dispels the darkness of death, the despair of the grave, and the doom of the curse. He is risen! What a game changer. He is risen!

If He’s not risen, then He’s as helpless as the founders of other religions whose bodies lie decaying in hopeless tombs. If He is not risen, then we believe in vain, we’re yet in our sins, and we’re of all men most miserable.

“But now is Christ risen!” Since He is risen, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and no man can get to God apart from Him. Since He is risen, though we sorrow at the loss of loved ones, we sorrow not as others who have no hope. Since He is risen, we shall rise again even as He promised.

Hallelujah! What a Savior! He is risen!

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

We are all familiar with the expression about putting the cart before the horse. I think we do that sometimes in our thinking about the relationship between discipleship and church planting. At the risk of being naively simple, let me state my understanding of the relationship. Jesus gave his followers one primary task before returning to heaven. He told them to make disciples (μαθητεύω) in Matthew 28:19. This is precisely what they did as revealed in the book of Acts. After Jesus called Paul to be one of His Apostles, we find that Paul did the same (Acts 14:21). The KJV wording of Acts 14:21 reads “taught many,” but the Greek word there is μαθητεύω (make disciples), the same word that Jesus used in the Great Commission. The work of Paul was the same work as the original eleven Apostles, to proclaim the Gospel with a view toward developing people as faithful followers of Christ.

During his ministry on earth Jesus made various promises about the future. Regarding the advance of His kingdom, His central promise is found in Matthew 16:18. He said unequivocally that He would build His church. He did not associate that statement with conditions. He did not say, “if this happens then I will build My church.” Rather, it was statement of fact, not possibility.  We know that this is precisely what He has done. He has built, and is building His church throughout history and around the world. Hell itself cannot hinder what He is accomplishing regarding His bride, the church.

Is it too simplistic to say that we have our responsibility and He has His? We are to make disciples. He is to build His church. Throughout the centuries and around the world today, in those places where His followers are passionately seeking to make disciples, He is rapidly building His church. There are some phenomenal church planting movements in parts of the world where there is little ecclesiastical refinement, but contagious passion about making disciples. Could it be that we focus far too much on building the church and far too little on making disciples? When the Apostle Paul looked in the mirror, did he see a church planter or a disciple maker? May I suggest that, although Paul was fully aware of the fact that Jesus was building His church through the Apostle’s efforts, Paul understood his day to day activity to be defined by Jesus’ commission to go and make disciples? I think that Paul had genuine confidence in Jesus’ promise to build His church. He had faith to obey what Christ had commanded him to do and believed that Jesus absolutely would accomplish what He had said He would accomplish. Is this perhaps part of the reason why Paul’s writings say so little about how to plant a church and so much about how to make disciples? Do our programs for church planting domestically and internationally focus primarily on the nuts and bolts of growing a congregation or on the travail of developing Christ-like followers? In my many years of involvement with all aspects of missions, I have encountered many new church planters and new missionaries who have taken courses and read books about church planting. They are educated and primed to serve. But I can count on my fingers the number of people who when asked the question, “can you tell me about your experience in leading someone to Christ and successfully developing him as a growing disciple of Christ” gave me a satisfactory response. Are we sending people into ministry with inadequate preparation for the one thing that Jesus said was to be our primary activity until He returns? Could it be that we are putting the cart before the horse?