A Friendship, a Book, and a Change of Heart

Rarely do we realize how important the small things we do can be. Many years ago, in a religion course at a community college in Georgia, I taught a young woman who did not believe in God. I felt a burden for her, and my wife and I began to pray for her and talk with her about God. I gave her a number of books, the most important of which was C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Soon she received Christ and began to grow in her faith.

Several years later, after I had become president of Welch College, she brought her fiance to my office to meet me. He was a conservative Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) pastor. One of the things she said was that she still had questions about the doctrine of salvation. So I gave her two Reformed Arminian books: Robert Picirilli’s Grace, Faith, Free Will and Leroy Forlines’s The Quest for Truth. I wondered if she or her soon-to-be husband would ever read those books.

Several months ago, her husband, Keith Coward, contacted me and said he had become a convinced Arminian. A couple of weeks ago, his presbytery divested him of office. Some comments he recently made about his journey were picked up by the Society of Evangelical Arminians website, which I have printed below, after some brief remarks Keith placed on the SEA members’ page when asked about the book that got him thinking about Arminianism in a more serious way. I thought my readers would find this interesting.

From the SEA Members’ Page:

“A cool story about that first book. . . . My wife was an atheist when she attended junior college. She took a religion course to meet a general education requirement. The teacher challenged her, gave her a copy of Mere Christianity, and prayed for her with his wife. She ultimately became a believer because of his influence. Before we were married, we were in Nashville and I dropped her off to visit her former professor; we met just briefly. I am sure that he was disappointed to find that this young girl he had led to Christ was dating a PCA pastor. He gave her a couple of books, one of which was Picirilli’s Grace, Faith, Free Will. I’m not sure that she ever read it, but out of genuine curiosity and respect for the man who led my future wife to the Lord, I read it. The teacher’s name is Matt Pinson, president of Welch College, at the time Free Will Baptist College. I continue to be amused at the fact that the Lord reached my wife through a conservative Arminian in a religion class at a secular college, and how that ultimately led to my own sort of conversion.”

From the SEA Website:

When I was ordained as a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1999, I enthusiastically affirmed my agreement with its Calvinistic/Reformed doctrinal statement, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). That same night, I also vowed that if I ever found myself out of accord with its teaching, I would take the initiative to notify my Presbytery (the regional ecclesiastical body) that my views had changed. I did not expect to have to keep that promise because I had been Reformed since my first semester seminary in 1992 and “knew” that I was right. But fifteen years later, in April 2014, it became necessary for me to notify my Presbytery that I no longer adhere to its confessional standards; I no longer believe that Calvinism is biblical teaching.

I had chosen a Reformed school not because I agreed with Reformed theology (RT), but because a favorite pastor taught there. But I quickly embraced Calvinism because I desperately wanted to understand how Scripture fit together, and my professors were offering me a comprehensive ready-made system that explained 1,200 pages of divine revelation. They were wiser than I by far, and could mount a massive number of verses that appeared to teach TULIP. I had neither the time nor the skill to test their interpretation of Scripture. And besides, God’s knowledge is infinitely greater than mine; so even if his word taught that he ordains whatsoever comes to pass – including the salvation or damnation of all people – I was going to worship him on his terms.So for the next 20 years I would be a staunch Calvinist, convinced that it was simply the teaching of God’s word. I sincerely believed it, taught it, and defended it. I even wrote a study on the WCF, explaining the intricacies of the system and answering common objections to it.

But several things eventually led to me reconsider the views of almost all my teachers, colleagues, friends, and heroes. The first was that an acquaintance gave me a copy of a book written by a “Reformed Arminian”. I read it out of curiosity, and though it did not persuade me in the least, it did challenge my prejudice against Arminians. Scripture seemed clear about RT, so I had assumed that anyone who denied it was either ignorant or insolent. Some had not read the Bible carefully enough and others just could not stomach God as he revealed himself to be. But this book offered a clear alternative to Calvinism and intelligently interacted with its favorite proof texts. The author did not convince me, but he did give me a new category: there were non-Calvinists who had taken the Bible to heart and honestly believed that it taught God’s desire to save all.

The second thing that contributed to my journey out of Calvinism is that I became better acquainted with its teaching. In seminary I had accepted RT in principle, but had not had time to work out the details in my own mind. During decade after graduation I had more time to read Reformed theologians like Calvin, Edwards, Frame, and Reymond; I came to understand what RT teaches about the divine decree – that libertarian freedom is an illusion; that God effects his eternal plan by determining and controlling our desires; that we are responsible for sin not because we could have done otherwise, but because we did what we wanted to do (even though God determined that we would want to sin). I accepted this teaching, again, because I thought Scripture taught it. But it introduced tension into my thinking that would weigh more and more heavily upon me over the years to come.

The third thing that set me on the course to reject RT was the thing that had led me into it – Scripture itself. As a pastor I preached through books of the Bible verse by verse. Occasionally I would encounter a common Calvinistic proof text and realize that it did not necessarily say what I had thought it said. John 3 does not necessarily teach that regeneration precedes faith; John 10 does not necessarily teach that Jesus died only for the elect; Eph 1 does not necessarily teach that God ordained whatever happens; 1 Pet 1 does not necessarily teach that God elected individuals for salvation – unconditionally, effectually, exclusively. Once again, these discoveries did not shake my confidence in RT. There were too many passages that clearly taught it; I considered Romans 9 impregnable to Arminian assault. But I realized that the quantity of verses used to support my view did not matter if, upon closer scrutiny, they could not bear the weight that we Calvinists were putting on them on a case-by-case basis.

I remained a committed Calvinist by choice and wanted to silence the issues that were bothering me, so on vacation in October 2012 I decided to shore up my confidence by reading some Reformed writers. But my plan backfired: I began with a small booklet about election; the author opened by stating his case from Eph 1:4 – a verse that I had studied when teaching through Ephesians the previous year. I had been struck by the parallels between Deut 4:37; 7:6-11 and this text: In the former, God says that he chose the Israelites to be his holy people because he loved them for the sake of their fathers; in the latter, Paul says that God chose “us” to be holy in Christ, which may easily mean “for the sake of Christ”. Election was a corporate, vocational, conditional concept for Israel; perhaps it was the same thing for Christians (see 1 Pet 2:9-10). Whatever the case, I knew that there was a lot of room to interpret Eph 1:4 differently than this author did. He was building his case for election on a verse that I knew could not bear that weight, and I began to wonder what would happen to other classic proof texts if examined more carefully, without Calvinistic presuppositions.

I decided to spend my vacation differently: Instead of trying to bolster my confidence in RT I began to work my way through several texts ostensibly supporting the Calvinistic concept of unconditional election. I asked, “Is there another way to understand these passages?” To my surprise and chagrin, I found that there were not only alternative interpretations, but that they actually made better sense of the texts’ contexts.

That was a turning point in my life. For the first time I said, “Whatever it cost me (and I knew it could cost me everything), I want to know the truth.” I spent the next year and a half going back through Scripture, reading books on both sides of the issue, listening to debates and lectures, praying fervently, studying passages, and meditating deeply. Gradually, my questions about RT turned into doubts, and by the end of 2013, I realized that my doubts had turned into disbelief. I had not fully reconstructed my theology, but it was clear that I no longer found Calvinism coherent, much less biblical.

Some were later critical that I explored Arminianism privately, but it was prudent for two reasons: First, I had been exposed almost exclusively to Calvinistic theologians for 20 years; they had given me the lens through which I read Scripture. I needed to test that lens by the word of God, not the words of humans; I needed mental space to examine my beliefs without outside influences pressuring me to conform to an ecclesiastical standard; I needed to widen my intellectual dialogue to include voices from the breadth of Christ’s church and not just from one part of it. Second, I did not know what would happen if my Presbytery discovered my questions before I had drawn any conclusions; I was not ready to recant Calvinism and needed time to think through the issues. Now, from the outside, I have grave concerns about the ways that some Calvinists discourage dissent; and I fear that intimidation will keep most from ever even considering that they may be misguided.

In fulfillment of my ordination vow, I sent notice to my Presbytery in April 2014, and at the meeting that month stood before my professional peers to acknowledge that my views had changed. For the most part, they responded as they should: They met with me, prayed for me, and asked me to take a study leave to reconsider the issue in dialogue with Reformed thinkers. I was grateful for that opportunity to “check my work” and used the time well; but 30 days later I could only say that my convictions had not changed. They had no choice, but to divest me of office at their next meeting in July. My credentials as a PCA minister were withdrawn, and I was no longer qualified to pastor the PCA congregation I was serving.

Some of my worst fears were realized, but this journey was for me a simple matter of faithfulness to Jesus. We are called to believe what we think Scripture teaches and to obey what we think Scripture requires, such as keeping one’s vows and swearing to one’s own harm. Sometimes our love for Jesus means that we must lose friends, approval, and job-security; but these are small matters alongside the pleasure of walking with him.

A couple of “friends” turned on me, but the biggest relief in this process was to find that most stood by me. Though they disagree with me, they have heard my heart and continue to love me, pray for me, even socialize with me; and I am grateful for this above all else. Calvinists and Arminians have said hurtful things to each other, so tempers can run high and suspicions can go deep. But I have felt no conceit or contempt in this journey. I disagree with them, but in their numbers are some of the finest men and women I have ever known. By God’s grace, I pray that my love for them will always temper my critique of RT – and keep me open to their criticism as well.

On one hand, I gained much more respect than I lost in this process. Many in the PCA still smart from the dishonesty of men who had lied in their ordination vows before their split from a mainline denomination in 1973; so they welcomed my honesty, even if they did not welcome my departure. But in a subtle way I have had to endure the loss of respect as well. Many Calvinists think as I did – Arminians are either ignorant or insolent. Since no one has been able to accuse me of either, I represent a problem to them. They are not ready to admit that I may have left RT for good reasons, so they have probed for the cause of my apostasy. No one has said this explicitly to me, but several have implied that I was brainwashed by reading the wrong authors and commentaries; and that is a condescending, disrespectful attitude that has been painful. But it has been good exercise for me to practice the example of Jesus “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (see 1 Pet 2:21-23). It is difficult not to demand honor from one’s opponents; but I wonder if this process was a rehearsal for tests we may all face as it becomes more costly to follow Jesus in this culture.

Finally, I lost my livelihood and have not yet recovered it. There have been seasons of desperation and even anger as I’ve asked why the Lord led me down this path that seems to lead nowhere. But he has provided for my family abundantly, and he has reminded me to worry not about how I’m going to pay the bills, but what pleases him (Prov 3:5-6; Matt 6:33).

In the end, this journey has not been about having the right answers, but following Jesus. I differ from some Arminians when I say that if, when I meet the Lord, I discover that Calvinists were right after all, I will fall on my face in worship, savor the sacrifice that covers sins committed in ignorance, and trust him for the grace to love him as he is. I am not seeking a man-centered religion more palatable to my ego, but have followed him down this path because I am zealous for his honor as a loving God, a just God, and a God who is so sovereign that he can make creatures who, like himself, are not scripted . . . but free and thus capable of loving and being loved by him. What I have found is a God that actually lives up to the glorious God preached by Calvinists.

Welch College at the Free Will Baptist National Convention

Last week Welch College participated in the annual Convention of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. This is significant, because Welch is the only educational institution owned and operated by the National Association. Welch was well-represented, and we had a great time in Fort Worth.

A Relationship of Accountability and Support

Welch’s relationship with the National Association is a wonderful relationship of accountability and support. We are accountable to the National Association to which we report, both to the General Board and the body of delegates gathered at the Convention.

Our report includes an update on the ministry and progress of the college, as well as a detailed financial audit prepared by an independent auditor. This process also gives me, as president of the college, an opportunity to respond to questions posed by delegates to the Convention.

The National Association also elects our board members every two years at the Convention. This year, we welcomed Dr. Eddie Moody as a newly elected board member.

A Great Time of Connection for the College

Last week was a great time of connection for Welch College. All things Welch College were abuzz. The college’s booths in the exhibit hall were packed. The alumni and friends luncheon was very well attended. Everyone I have talked with said it was the best convention for Welch in a number of years.

Much of this, no doubt, is because of the 24 percent increase in dorm enrollment we experienced this past year, and the fact that our financial situation is so much better than it has been the past few years. With our new name (which has been received so well by our alumni and supporters), a gradually increasing enrollment, and a new sense of unity symbolized by the welcoming of transfer students from Gateway Christian College, we are poised for great things in the future.

I ask my readers to pray for Welch College as we continue to be faithful to the mission to which God has called us. Check back for future posts in which I plan to post more about the National Convention, including my report to the delegates to this year’s meeting.

Welch College Announces Playwriting Contest

Welch College is seeking submissions for its 2014 playwriting contest, according to AnnaGee Harris, drama director. Entries will be judged through a blind judging process. First prize winner will receive $200 and have the possibility of his/her script toured by the Evangel Players.* Entries must be received by December 1, 2014. All entries should follow the enclosed guidelines and be emailed to scriptcontest@welch.edu. No entry fee required.

Rules

1.     Contest open to members of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, including students, faculty, and staff of Free Will Baptist colleges.

2.     Submissions restricted to unpublished plays only.

3.     Adaptations accepted if the playwright has complete rights to the work or the work adapted is public domain.

Guidelines

1.     Play must be 27-35 minutes in length.

2.     Play should be written for seven or fewer actors—gender flexibility a plus (scripts with more than seven characters are permitted if play is written for role doubling).

3.     Submissions must have a strong Christian message of discipleship or similar focus reflecting the doctrine and teachings of the Free Will BaptistTreatise.

4.     Play should take place in a single setting and be adaptable to the varying stage sizes encountered on a drama tour.

5.     Play should have minimal technical requirements.

Submissions

1.     Prepare submissions as a Word document.

2.     E-send submissions as a Word attachment to scriptcontest@welch.edu.

3.     Scripts should be typed, 12-point font, double-spaced, with pages numbered.

4.     Submissions should include two cover pages: the first cover page should include the play’s title, playwright’s name, address, and local church name. The second cover page should have only the play’s name.

5.     Playwright’s name and personal information should not appear anywhere except the first cover page, due to the blind judging process. Identity of the playwright will be withheld from judges until the winning script is chosen.

6.     If a playwright submits more than one script, send each script as a separate attachment, including the two cover pages.

7.     Co-authored scripts are allowed if the first cover page contains the specified information for all authors.

Questions

Email any questions regarding the contest to AnnaGee Harris, Welch College drama director, agharris@welch.edu.

*Welch College retains the right to produce the winning play royalty-free during the Evangel Players’ tour (This right is for one play season only). The winning playwright will retain full rights to the work, but Welch College reserves the right to make minor changes/adjustments to the chosen script for the purpose of performance. Any changes/adjustments made by Welch College reflect the needs of the tour, not the quality of the script.

Embodying the Mind of Christ in Relationships, Part Three

In the last post, we talked about unity—the need for members of Christ’s church to be of one mind, having the same love, in one accord. Today we are going to discuss the greatest enemy of unity, the biggest thing that keeps us from embodying the mind of Christ in our relationships: Pride.

Crucifying Pride

We will never achieve unity with other believers if we do not deal with the pride in our hearts that is endemic to our human condition. So Paul stresses that having the mind of Christ means crucifying our pride (vv. 3-4).

Paul stresses that the unity of which he speaks is not possible if pride gets in the way. Most of the time in human relationships, pride is the main problem. Pride was the original problem in the Garden of Eden. When we sin, it’s always ultimately a problem of pride because we are putting our self and our account of things before God and his account of things.

Pride destroys unity. It makes it impossible. Pride produces strife in the church, because it is characterized by what Paul calls selfish ambition and vain conceit (v. 3). Think of the sorts of attitudes and behavior that pride produces:

·       Striving

·       Ambition

·       Self-promotion

·       Thinking you’re always right and never wrong

·       The inability to be self-critical

·       Self-focus

Too often our pride, when it’s all said and done, is what gets in the way of our unity with other believers.

A Frowning Man, Pride, and a Pocket Knife

A couple of decades ago, I was pastoring a church in Connecticut, and there was a middle-aged man who attended the church. He had a long pony-tail and looked like he stepped out of the pages of a magazine from the late 60s. As a young minister, I would preach my heart out, only to be met with blank stares from this man. Sometimes, his forehead would wrinkle up as he frowned broadly while looking straight at me. At the end of the service, he would always greet me cordially as he left but never bragged on the sermons like the rest of the congregants.

Pride began to set in, and it seemed the more I worried about the look on his face and his reaction to my sermons, the worse his reactions seemed to become, and the more my inflated ego began to be bruised. I managed to develop a real dislike for this man.

Then one cold winter day, I was standing in the parking lot with this man and several other men. Standing there in the snow, I pulled out my pocket knife, which was old and had a broken tip. He saw it, and pulled out his much nicer, newer pocket knife. I just knew he was going to boast about his knife. But instead of bragging about his fine knife in comparison to my bedraggled one, he said, “What’s say we trade knives.”

I was in shock. Not knowing how to respond, I muttered, “Sure,” and handed him my knife, and he handed me his. Then he said, “When people ask me about this knife, I’m going to tell them, ‘This knife belonged to a preacher I once knew . . . [long pause] and he was a great preacher!’”

That day the Lord taught me a big lesson on pride and humility, and the danger of allowing pride and ego to make us think we have others “figured out.” I will never, ever forget that day, and that lesson on pride.

Humility: The Essence of the Mind of Christ

Pride will always destroy unity with other people. Instead of being prideful, we should be more concerned about others than ourselves. That’s what real humility is. Paul stresses that in humility—in lowliness of mind—we should esteem others better than ourselves (v. 3 b). And this humility—this lowliness of mind—should make us put others’ interests above our own. (4)

This is the essence of the mind of Christ.

Let us pray that Christ will conform us to his image as he enables us to embody his mind, motivated by our life in him, coming together with believers in unity, and crucifying our pride.

Embodying the Mind of Christ in Relationships, Part Two

In the last post we meditated on what Philippians 2 can teach us about the implications of the mind of Christ for our relationships. We emphasized that the mind of Christ motivates us to love, humility, and unity, and that it necessarily involves unity.

What does this unity mean? For St. Paul, it means embodying unity of mind, unity of love, and being in “one accord.”

Unity of Mind

If we’re going to have unity in the body of Christ, we must haveunity of mind (understanding, doctrine): “being like-minded . . . of one mind” (v. 2). “Mind” is from the Greek word froneo. In other places in Paul’s writings, this word is translated to think, to set your mind on something, to formulate views on something, to be concerned or feel strongly about something.

Paul is saying here that unity presupposes feeling strongly about the truth. The historic teaching of the church is that unity and theological truth go together. When unity is absent in the church, Satan is more apt to come in and stir up false doctrine, and vice versa—when false doctrine gets a foothold in the church, unity becomes worthless because it’s no longer unity in Christ and his truth.

So true Christian unity cannot exist if people aren’t settled on Christ and his truth. This means that unity is not something that has to do only with touchy-feely emotions and nothing to do with the mind and doctrine and theology. We can never have true Christian unity at the expense of truth—at the expense of Christ’s own view of reality.

Unity in Love

But unity in the truth is not enough. To embody the mind of Christ in our relationships, we must achieve unity in love: “having the same love [agape]” (v. 2).

Love is what makes unity possible. It’s the glue that holds people together. 1 John 4:20-21 says: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” We must exhibit behavior that shows that we love our brothers.

What is love? In 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, Paul gives us 13 characteristics of agape love: It is patient and kind; not jealous; doesn’t brag; isn’t arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, or resentful; rejoices in the truth, not in wrongdoing; is protective, faithful, hopeful, and enduring. This is the kind of love that Paul believes is necessary for Christian unity.

In One Accord

If we are together in truth and love, we will be in one accord—sharing the same feelings, being intent on the same Christ-centered vision. Unity means being in one accord” (v. 2), laboring together with the same heart, the same depth of feeling. Unity means being intent on the same purpose—what we are working for, what we are trying to accomplish.

What we have here is a unity that involves the total personality.  We are to be united in our minds (what we think), our hearts (how we feel), and our wills (what we do).

In the next post, I’ll discuss the greatest enemy of unity, the greatest thing that keeps us from embodying the mind of Christ in our relationships: Pride.

Embodying the Mind of Christ in Relationships, Part One

In my next few posts, I want to meditate on the implications of the mind of Christ for our relationships, as gleaned from the first four verses of Philippians 2. As we put on the mind of Christ, we will realize in community what it means to be the people God designed us to be, and the people he is recreating us in Christ to be.

Motivation

We will never be able to have relationships that glorify God without the proper motivation. Putting on the mind of Christ gives us the ultimate motivation for the sorts of virtues we need to embody as we relate to others.

The mind of Christ motivates us to love, humility, and unity (v. 1).Paul mentions four motivations in particular:

·       Consolation (encouragement) in Christ

·       Comfort flowing from Christ’s love

·       Fellowship (koinonia, community) made possible by the Spirit in us emanating to others

·       Affection (tenderness) and mercy

Since these qualities exist, because of Christ, Paul says, make my joy complete by living in oneness or unity. In other words, these truths make unity possible, and they make it necessary.  There is no way we can exhibit Christian unity without these Christlike traits. And there is no way we can keep from exhibiting unity if we embody these Christlike traits.

These are things that come from Christ through the Spirit, and they emanate from the true follower of Christ to others. Those who really have encouragement or consolation from Christ of necessity encourage and give consolation to others. Those who receive the comfort flowing from Christ’s love extend that comfort of love to others. Those who are beneficiaries of the community orkoinonia of the Spirit seek to foster that fellowship with others. Those who have been on the receiving end of Christ’s tenderness, his affection, and his mercy, are tender with others, they show their affection to others, and they’re merciful to others. If these things are true—if they are really true, Paul says, make my joy complete by living in unity with each other.

The mind of Christ motivates us to work toward Christlike relationships with others. And Paul says that this motivation, these first principles for Christian relationships, demand unity.

Unity

Having the mind of Christ means being united (v. 2). The unity of Christians needs to be an outward unity that is observable by the watching world. If we expect to be believable to the watching world, we must exhibit observable behavior that shows that we love our brothers.

Remember what Jesus said: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In John 17:21, Jesus prays “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me.”

Francis Schaeffer, in his wonderful little book, The Mark of the Christian, says: “This is the final apologetic [the final defense of the faith]. In John 13 the point was that if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian. Here [in John 17], Jesus is stating something else which is much more cutting, much more profound: we cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.”

In the next post, I will discuss what this unity looks like.

Lockert Named Flames Volleyball Coach

Ashley Lockert has been named Welch College Head Volleyball Coach, according to Athletic Director Gary Turner. Lockert is a 2007 Welch College graduate and one of only a few volleyball players to have competed all four years as a member of the Flames.

As a student at Welch, in addition to volleyball, Lockert was involved in several areas of campus life. She was a student council representative, Charlotte Bronte Society Events Coordinator, Assistant Director of Musicals, and Concert Choir President.

Lockert has two things critical for success–a love of volleyball and a love for Welch College. She is determined to come in and advance the program. “I love volleyball,” Lockert stated. “Being able to return to my alma mater in this new position is very exciting. I am truly honored and humbled by this opportunity.”

“I am looking forward to working with Coach Lockert,” said Gary Turner. “Her enthusiasm and knowledge of the sport will definitely continue moving our program in the right direction.”

Lockert is currently a legal assistant/paralegal at Feeney & Murray P.C. She enjoys spending time with her family as well as musical theatre and “play” with the Cheatham County Community Theatre.

Ashley is married to Will Lockert, and they have two sons, Liam and Loghan. They attend Bethlehem Free Will Baptist Church where they are youth leaders and Ashley teaches pre-school children’s church.

T. David Gordon on Youth Ministry and Youth Culture

A few weeks ago, I recommended four podcasts on youth ministry from the White Horse Inn. I didn’t know at that time how many more podcasts they would post on youth and youth ministry-related topics. They ran four more such podcasts, which I highly recommend to youth and family ministers as well as other pastors and church leaders.

Particularly interesting was the last podcast in the series, “Youth Ministry and Youth Culture,” an interview with media ecologist T. David Gordon. A religion professor at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, Gordon is one of the most savvy and perceptive cultural critics in evangelicalism today.

He has recently published two penetrating books that focus on how contemporary culture is shaping Christian faith and practice in sometimes unsuspected ways: Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal.

One of the things that struck my wife Melinda and me as we were listening to this podcast was Gordon’s reaction to clips from interviews conducted at a ministry conference. Some of the interviewees remarked that teenagers have a short attention span and think in 3-minute segments. So we have to de-emphasize content and the word and emphasize experience and the visual, putting everything into 3-minute segments to keep their attention.

Gordon says that this approach fails to reckon with the established phenomenon of “neuro-plasticity”—the brain’s ability to rewire itself. “People can change. It’s cynical, it seems to me, to say, ‘Well, this person can never think more than three-and-a-half minutes.’ It’s really unjust to say such a thing about a person, because if there are any humans who can pay attention, this person could become one.”

Gordon believes, in short, that it’s unfair to treat the younger generation in such a way as to deprive them of the sort of deep attention to truth that is essential to biblical faithfulness. His comment that, when we dumb things down for younger people, we are being cynical about them and unfair to them, is very poignant.

Gordon, unlike a flood of voices in conservative evangelicalism calling for moving away from age-segregated youth ministry altogether, believes that church ministries specifically for youth can be a golden opportunity to prepare young people for Christian adulthood by training them how to be spiritually mature.

I encourage my readers to listen to this podcast, which can be found here.

Three other White Horse Inn podcasts in the month of June have also discussed youth ministry and youth-related topics:

Giving Up Gimmicks” (This is a discussion with Brian Cosby, author of Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture.)

Sustainable Discipleship

Taking Every Thought Captive” (This is a more-educational podcast about teaching young people to how to engage in critical thinking.)

They have also provided a study kit to go along with these episodes, which includes resources and material not included in the podcasts.

The Theological Integrity Seminar at the 2014 National Convention

For more than four decades, the Commission for Theological Integrity of the National Association of Free Will Baptists (of which I serve as chairman) has sponsored an extended Theological Integrity Seminar at the annual session of the National Association. In these lengthy sessions, we have a speaker address theological trends and issues facing evangelicals and Free Will Baptists. Then we follow up with a time of Q&A and dialogue.

The Theological Integrity Seminar will be Monday, July 28, at 2:00 p.m. in Hall CD of the Fort Worth Convention Center. Because it is lengthier than a typical seminar at the convention, we hold it only one time. I hope you will “save the date” and make plans to be at this seminar.

This year we are discussing a very important topic: the need to revisit ministerial licensure and ordination standards to be more serious about our confessional commitments (the beliefs or doctrines we confess) as Free Will Baptists. The speaker will be Tim Campbell, Executive Director of Arkansas Free Will Baptists, and his presentation will be entitled “A Solemn Appeal for a Serious Approach to Licensure and Ordination.”

Tim is uniquely suited to make this presentation. He brings together a hunger and thirst for theology and a practical ministry among Free Will Baptist churches, associations, and pastors.Through various means in Arkansas such as the Thomas Grantham Society, the Pillars Conferences, etc., he is pioneering theological and ministry mentoring among pastors across generations, and his efforts are meeting with great success. It’s because he sees theology not just as being a book on a shelf, but rather lived-out theology, theology for everyday life and ministry.

This is a seminar we need, and it’s a topic we need to be discussing in this age when the secular culture around us is becoming more and more secularized, and when much of the evangelical culture around us is becoming less and less concerned about doctrine and theological integrity.

So I encourage you to mark this on your calendar and attend this year’s Theological Integrity Seminar at 2:00 Monday afternoon in Hall CD of the Fort Worth Convention Center.Bring your notepad or tablet and be ready to take notes and engage in the conversation.

The Commission for Theological Integrity has been in existence since 1962. Its historic purposes are: (1) to alert our people to theological trends that could threaten our theological integrity as a denomination, (2) to prepare materials that will contribute to the continued preservation of the theological integrity of the denomination, and (3) as need and opportunity arise, to conduct seminars on subjects which are pertinent to the purpose of the Commission.

The members of the commission are myself, Kevin Hester (secretary), Randy Corn, and Jackson Watts. A fifth member will be elected this year at the convention.

We look forward to seeing you at this year’s Theological Integrity Seminar!

120 Welch Students Make President’s/Provost’s List

The Spring 2014 semester at Welch College ended with 120 students earning academic recognition, according to Provost Greg Ketteman. Twenty-eight students made all A’s and were placed on the President’s List—six seniors, eleven juniors, eight sophomores, and three freshmen. Ninety-two students earned a B average or higher and were placed on the Provost’s List—16 seniors, 23 juniors, 30 sophomores, and 23 freshmen.

President’s List: “A” Honor Roll

Barthelemy, Kaleigh (So.) GA
Brown, Charity (Sr.) TN
Brown, Reese (Jr.) TN
Cominskie, Derek (Jr.) VA
Congleton, Jacy (Jr.) NC
Conley, Jason (Fr.) TN
Dell, David (Jr.) VA
Douglas, Bethany (Sr.) TN
Grimsely, Anna (So.) GA
Henley, Lindsey (So. Post-Baccalaureate) TN
Hill, Elizabeth (Jr.) VA
Hollis, Michael (So.) NC
Lewis, Casey (Jr.) NC
Nelson, Melissa (Sr.) NC
Outlaw, Carson (Fr.) TN
Parrish, Emily (Jr.) NC
Riggs, Laura (Jr.) MI
Sample, Kayla (Sr.) IL
Scott, Benjamin (Fr.) TN
Sexton, Leah (So.) GA
Smith, Candice (Jr.) NB, Canada
Thomas, Larissa (So.) AR
Trotter, Audrey (Sr.) TN
Tucker, Gregory (Jr.) TN
Tuttobene, Cherish (So.) TN
Tuttobene, Jeannine (So.) TN
Wilkerson, Reid (Jr.) TN
Williams, Samantha (Sr.) AR

Provost’s List: “B” Honor Roll

Seniors
Bell, Victoria (NC)
Cloninger, John (TN)
Coker, Daniel (TN)
Coker, Taylor (TN)
Colvin, Nathan (TN)
Cyrus, Andrew (TN)
Deel, Austin (TN)
Easley, Phillip (MO)
Forlines, Joel (TN)
Fry, Katherine (TN)
Hutchinson, Tim (MI)
Manning, Jake (NC)
Montero, Julie (FL)
Mouser, Matthew (TN)
Pugh, Daniel (TN)
Truett, Cody (FL)

Juniors
Alexander, Loren (AR)
Bozeman, Stephen (GA)
Brimer, Nathaniel (VA)
Dunbar, Joshua (AR)
Fondren, Brooke (MS)
Greer, Taylor (VA)
Jackson, Matthew (TN)
Jenkins, Lesley (TN)
Lindsay, Deandra (TN)
Lute, Derreck (OH)
Mouser, Amanda (TN)
Nelson, Kelsey (NC)
Newland, John (TN)
Petty, Maria (IL)
Reeves, David (KY)
Snow, Elizabeth (TN)
Stox, Kevin (NC)
Taylor, Sean (VA)
Trimble, Alyssa (CA)
Trussel, Kristin (FL)
Walker, Brittany (FL)
Walters, Dustin (MS)
Zuniga, Zuri (AR)

Sophomores
Campbell, Anna (TN)
Clarke, Staci (TN)
Driggers, Camille (SC)
Driggers, Hannah (SC)
Droll, Morgan (IL)
Dunham, Hanna (OH)
Ford, Celeste (TN)
Forlines, Jared (TN)
Foust, Corey (TN)
Freeman, Shelby (VA)
Hampton, Rachel (TN)
Holdon, Trevor (AR)
Marable, Albert (TN)
Martin, Joshua (NC)
McDonald, Amy (TN)
Melvin, Jessica (TN)
Merkh, Caroline (TN)
Milling, Caleb (TN)
Morgan, Rebekah (TN)
Nichols, Leslie (TN)
Norris, Tyler (AL)
Owen, Melissa (GA)
Pate, Chris (TN)
Pope, Eric (NC)
Sample, Hunter (IL)
Skaggs, Hannah (KY)
Stonerock, Paula (OH)
Thorton, William (TN)
Thrasher, Emily (MI)
Vickery, Zachary (AL)

Freshmen
Blades, Autumn (TN)
Blake, Allison (TN)
Carey, Christian (OK)
Chandler, Jordan (TN)
Coleman, Nicholas (AR)
Crawford, Alexander (AR)
Dell, Daniel (VA)
Ferguson, Joslin (TN)
Forlines, Anna (TN)
Gedeon, Matthew (TN)
Guzman, Damaris (WV)
James, Megan (TN)
Johnson, Ashton (OK)
Kim, Daeun (TN)
Kimbrel, Kayla (SC)
Madden, Dakota (AL)
Montgomery, Caleb (AL)
Parrish, Ellen (NC)
Persinger, Travis (IN)
Romain, Akelam (Virgin Islands)
Saunders, Matthew (TN)
Strickland, Lauren (NC)
Walker, Hope (IL)

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