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Welch College, World Missions, and the World Missions Offering

I can remember attending a National Association seminar about twelve years ago. The discussion revolved around the large numbers of retiring missionaries over the next several years. This was compared with the dwindling numbers of students answering the call to cross-cultural missionary service. I would never have dreamed a decade ago that Welch College would have so many students interested in service as career missionaries, “tentmakers,” and short-term missionaries.

Welch College is abuzz with missions. Our student-led Global Missions Fellowship (GMF) stimulates interest in missions and awareness of people groups across the globe who are in need of the gospel. GMF accomplishes this through daily student-led prayer services for missions, fundraising for missions projects, and student missions trips. GMF also sponsors “Missions Moments,” once a week in chapel.

GMF is symbolic of the college’s seventy-one-year-long drive to play its role in the fulfillment of the Great Commission—and equip our students to do the same. We aim to make global missions not just a career but a lifestyle. We want Welch to produce graduates who are Great Commission Christians.

We believe that every one of our students can play a special role in this mandate. Some of our students are called to career missionary service and are being educated for that role at Welch. Our excellent B.A. degree program in Missions takes missions education seriously, for majors and non-majors alike.

Headed by veteran missionary-teacher Ron Callaway, missions majors combine heart, head, and hands to master cross-cultural ministry. The Missions Program sponsors missions trips, internships, missions conferences, retreats, and a host of other activities and events to make missions a central part of campus life.

Ron Callaway is in an excellent position to be able to train future missionaries. Not only is he a career missionary with four decades of cross-cultural missionary experience in places such as Spain, Panama, and Cuba. He also combines the heart of a missionary with the mind of a scholar. Chiefly, Ron Callaway is hailed by his students as a spiritual mentor who guides them in the way of Christ.

Welch College’s Great Commission emphasis impacts not just our missions majors and minors, but our entire student body. Our students who are called as local church ministers—pastors, youth and family ministers, music ministers, and others—have the opportunity to stimulate a vision for missions in the ministry of a local church. Our ministry majors explore the Great Commission mandate in the required course “Local Church and World Missions.”

We recently opened our international business degree program because of the increasing numbers of creative access countries that need the gospel. Many students called to missions are now majoring in international business so as to create a way to gain access to closed and restricted access countries.

Other students are majoring in business or teaching or counseling or some other “secular” field. Many of these will be career tentmakers in restricted access countries. Others will be called to surrender a time in their lives—a week, a month, a year—in short-term missionary service, using their vocational skills to help reach unbelievers in another culture. All of our graduates will be involved in praying, giving, and sending.

Welch College’s Missions Program works hand-in-hand with Free Will Baptist International Missions to educate Free Will Baptist missionaries who are thoroughly prepared for cross-cultural ministry. Leaders from Free Will Baptist International Missions and Home Missions have a presence on campus, and we are training our students to support our denominational missions efforts.

The college’s missions-as-lifestyle approach is probably the main reason that around 80 percent of all Free Will Baptist international missionaries have attended Welch College. We are boldly continuing our commitment to global missions—to being a Great Commission college for the glory of God in the twenty-first century.

Welch’s commission to world missions is the reason we support the annual World Missions Offering of the International Missions Board of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. It’s why I encourage every Free Will Baptist church and individual to give to the World Missions Offering on April 27, 2014. Please give sacrificially to the work of world missions through the WMO, to further the spread of the Gospel of the Kingdom!

Why an Ex-Evangelical of the Millennial Generation Left the Church

I recently read a post from Rod Dreher at the American Conservative (americanconservative.com) that I found interesting, and I think most of my readers will find interesting. It consists of a letter he received from a Millennial who changed his mind on same-sex marriage (abbreviated below as SSM) and left the evangelical faith of his youth.

The words of the letter are chilling. The writer basically says the reason he or she left evangelicalism, embraced the same-sex marriage cause, etc., was the shallowness of his or her church, which did not provide any theological foundation on which to base a compelling counter-argument to same-sex marriage.

This letter provides us a cautionary tale about the sort of environment we provide for young people to be formed and to mature in the Christian faith. It dovetails with what Thom Rainer (see, e.g., Essential Church) and others have shown: 18-year-olds are leaving Christianity at alarming rates, and the church type is not a variable in their leaving.

They’re leaving contemporary and traditional churches, urban and rural churches, charismatic and formal churches, megachurches and tiny churches. And the reason they’re leaving is not that we haven’t made the faith appealing enough to their cultural sensibilities. It is that they have not received a deep grounding in the Christian faith. It is that they have not been tied in to the “adult world” of the larger congregation, being generationally segregated in their own “youth world.” It is that they have not been mentored, over time, by godly adults.

And as Thomas Bergler has shown us in The Juvenilization of American Chrisitanity, too often this exodus is because many evangelicals have created a spiritual environment for their young people that appeals to their juvenile, youth-culture sensibilities rather than to their deepest needs and their deeply ingrained, innate knowledge of God and the law of God which is written on their hearts.

As Dreher intimates in the article, the answer is not to pendulum swing away from this shallowness into a “hyper-rationalism” that simply delivers stale theological lectures. The answer is what Leroy Forlines calls “total personality Christianity”—forging rich, loving intergenerational communities of faith that aim to provide full-orbed spiritual formation for the whole person—what we think (the intellect), what we feel (the emotions), and the everyday moral choices we make (the will).

I have reposted the article below.

Confessions Of An Ex-Evangelical, Pro-SSM Millennial

Posted By Rod Dreher On February 27, 2014 @ 8:27 am In | 181 Comments

A terrific letter came in last night from a reader:

As a Millennial whose change-of-heart on gay rights/ssm played a significant role in my walking away from the faith of my childhood, I feel I can shed a little light on that dynamic, and specifically why Millennials aren’t moving on to more liberal churches.  My leaving was much more about what the gay rights issues revealed about that faith than it was about the actual issue of gays and their right to marry.

Because there is nothing more obnoxious than a 24 year-old who’s going to tell everyone how the world works, all of this comes with the major caveat that it is simply my experience, and perhaps no one else’s.

I grew up in a Baptist church which practiced a kind of soft Evangelicalism.  They would have never thrown out that term because doing that kind of taxonomy isn’t really in the Baptist mindset, but the influence of Evangelicalism was everywhere.  Even for non-evangelical Millennials though, it’s important to remember just how much Evangelical culture infused the culture of youth groups from more traditional denominations during this period.  I spent a fair amount of time in other churches, and even in those churches that were quite conventional with their adult ministries, their youth ministry was heavily influenced by Evangelicalism.

We were taught that our church not only had the absolute truth, but that there was no earthly history between the Bible and the doctrines being presented to us.  I went to Evangelical churches fifty-two Sundays a year for the better part of 19 years, and I cannot for the life of me remember once when the name of a theologian was mentioned.  There was one interpretation of scripture, and it was absolutely true.  And, in fact, even the various doctrines that were taught were never mentioned by name, because the presence of the name might suggest that there were alternatives.  One in three sermons at least name-checked Pre-tribulation rapture theology, but neither those terms nor pre-millennialism or John Nelson Darby was ever mentioned.

Instead of an intellectual tradition, it is a church built on emotion.  Every sermon is a revival stump speech about the evils of the world and the need for salvation.  Every sermon ends in a sentimental pop song/worship chorus to accompany an altar call in which the same handful of members weeps at the altar (these people are subsequently held up as the most exemplary Christians. I had a friend in junior high who could cry on cue; she cleaned up on attention in this system).

The problem these churches inevitably run into with their young members and same sex marriage is on the issue of doubt.  When you have a feelings based salvation in a faith in which doubt is a sign of spiritual failure, the young members of these churches lack the space to wrestle with a tough issue like this.

You see SSM advocates as employing emotive arguments in order to win, but you have to realize that a lot of the Christians that are being argued against have traded in nothing but emotion for the last 30 years.  Salvation is a weeping, sinners-prayer mumbling, emotional roller coaster, and the emoting never stops.  In all the years I was a member, my evangelical church made exactly one argument about SSM. It’s the argument I like to call the Argument from Ickiness:  Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worst kind of sinner you can be.  Period, done, amen, pass the casserole.

When you have membership with no theological or doctrinal depth that you have neglected to equip with the tools to wrestle with hard issues, the moment ickiness no longer rings true with young believers, their faith is destroyed.  This is why other young ex-evangelicals I know point as their “turning point” on gay marriage to the moment they first really got to know someone who was gay.  If your belief on SSM is based on a learned disgust at the thought of a gay person, the moment a gay person, any gay person, ceases to disgust you, you have nothing left.  In short, the anti-SSM side, and really the Christian side of the culture war in general, is responsible for its own collapse.  It failed to train up the young people on its own side preferring instead to harness their energy while providing them no doctrinal depth by keeping them in a bubble of emotion dependent on their never engaging with the outside world on anything but warlike terms.  Perhaps someday my fellow ex-evangelical Millennials and I will join other churches, but it will be as essentially new Christians with no religious heritage from our childhoods to fall back on.

If you are a Christian — Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox — I want you to send a link to this post to every pastor in your church, and everyone involved with youth ministry. And if you are a parent, I want you to think hard about this letter. I know I am. It explains how same-sex marriage was the catalyst for rethinking this churchgoing young Evangelical’s entire belief system.

This dumbed-down emotivism is the way many, many churches — not just Evangelical churches — present the faith to its young people. It’s that “Jesus is my best friend” stuff that adults think will make the faith more palatable to young people, but which just sets them up for collapse when they step outside the bubble of church culture and find pushback. Specifically, as the writer points out, if emotions are the foundation on which you build your faith, what happens when your emotions don’t line up with the teachings of your church? We Orthodox, Catholics, and Reformed Christians can look down our noses all we like at charismatics and Evangelicals for not having a strong and systematic theology, but what good does our theological depth do us if we don’t teach our young people how to think as Christians, and how to discipline their feelings with reason? Catholics, for example, are even more pro-SSM than Evangelicals.

It cannot be said often enough: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the de facto religion of American youth. [1] Who taught MTD to our kids? Who failed to give our kids something real and strong with which to resist MTD? Not long ago, I was talking to a young adult I know who has walked away from the church, and I told her that if I thought the entirety of Christianity was embodied by the kind of insipid, intellectually vacant church experiences she has had, I would have walked away too. The answer cannot be to pound kids over the head with dry theological lectures, because hyperrationalism is also a problem. But the opposite extreme — teaching young people that the faith is all about emotional experience and fideism — sets them up to be ex-Christians.

Arminian/Calvinist Thoughts from Ajith Fernando

The following blog post from Ajith Fernando appeared on the Zondervan Academic blog, Koinoniablog.net. Even though Dr. Fernando uses different categories and labels than I do, we discovered much common ground when he spoke on the campus of Welch College, about which he speaks in this post. I thought some of my readers might find it interesting.

 

Ajith Fernando: Arminian? Calvinist? I Suppose We are to Draw Daggers

Today our friend Ajith Fernando, teacher and author of several books including the recent Reclaiming Love, shares a devotional that’s cut me to the quick.

Recently Fernando met people who are encouraged by the revival of Reformed theology, yet as committed Arminians. Like them he appreciates Calvinism, but is committed to Arminianism, and so he wonders: What is he and others like him to do?

In the authentic post below he reveals his conclusion about a split that often engenders dagger-drawing:

“Systematic theology is helpful and needed in the church, but sometimes, with the paradoxes of Scripture, it can foster unnecessary divisions among devout biblical Christians…when we approach some of the difficult areas—on which the church has been divided over the centuries—we must do so with caution and humility.”

As someone prone to dagger-drawing myself, I would encourage you to sit with Fernando’s words and let them linger with you through your day.

—Jeremy Bouma, Th.M. (@bouma)

_____________________

I, a Methodist, made a surprise discovery of theologically likeminded folk while ministering recently at Welch College (a college of the Freewill Baptists). I was especially enriched by conversations with its President Matthew Pinson who edited the Zondervan book Four Views on Eternal Security.

Like me they have a sense of kinship with those active in the revival of Reformed theology that has taken place recently. I find myself agreeing with many of their concerns. However, the folks at Welch, like me, remain within the Arminian fold, though we seek to guard against the typical Arminian dangers of placing too much emphasis on human effort in salvation and not enough emphasis on the work of grace in enabling us to respond in faith to the call of God and in keeping us from falling away. I didn’t know that there were many others like this! It was a time of personal encouragement and rich fellowship for me.

Early in my ministry life, my first boss, Youth for Christ Central Asia Director Victor Manogarom, told me that the Australian Anglican Archbishop Marcus Loane had told him, “When you come across the ‘Arminian’ texts, preach them with the full force of application; and when you come across the ‘Calvinistic’ texts, preach them also with the full force of application.” This is what I have sought to do over the years.

When the great Anglican preacher Charles Simeon met with John Wesley, Simeon said,

“Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions, not for impertinent curiosity but for real instruction.”

Simeon asked Wesley whether he agreed with several affirmations which Simeon considered basic to the Reformed faith. Wesley found himself in agreement with all those affirmations. Simeon concluded:

“Then, Sir, with your leave, I will put up my dagger again for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance, all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to the ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.”

Systematic theology is helpful and needed in the church, but sometimes, with the paradoxes of Scripture, it can foster unnecessary divisions among devout biblical Christians. Systematic theology looks at the whole teaching of Scripture on a topic and communicates it in a way that is appropriate to the context in which we live. This is important for every age.

However, when we approach some of the difficult areas—on which the church has been divided over the centuries—we must do so with caution and humility. The infallible authority we claim is for the affirmations of Scripture, not for our theological formulations.

Actually, I prefer not to use the label Arminian for myself as I try to take both bodies of Scripture seriously. But my Calvinist friends would say that this last statement confirms me as an Arminian! My western friends would accuse me of copping out because I am holding two bodies of Scripture in unresolved tension.

I think I can live with that.

God’s wisdom is so great that we could never fully understand the depths of his truth. So sometimes we will humbly bow in resignation and accept that humble, devout students of the Word will look at some issues differently. Usually each view has its merits for it derives from a biblical emphasis. But each view can also be taken to an unhealthy extreme.

Note: The story about Charles Simeon is from a delightful booklet Charles Simeon of Cambridge: Silhouettes and Skeletons edited by Julia Cameron and published by Didasko Publishing and the Simeon Trust. It is available through http://www.amazon.co.uk/

Originally posted on the Zondervan Academic blog, http://www.koinoniablog.net/2014/04/ajith-fernando-arminian-calvinist-i-suppose-we-are-to-draw-daggers.html#sthash.RjgT2jBu.dpuf

A Christian Community of Faith and Learning, Part 2

In my last post, I discussed what we mean by the word Christian in the phrase “Christian community of faith and learning.” The next word is community. Listen to the primary definitions of this word:  a social group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society in which it exists. Another definition is: a group of men and women leading a common life according to a rule. Some other definitions are “similar character,” “agreement,” “identity.”

These definitions capture what I believe should be our vision of a Christian community of faith and learning. We are a community. We are a social group that has gathered around common characteristics and common interests: a common faith, a common Lord, a common baptism, a common confession.

We also perceive ourselves as distinct, in some very important respects, from the larger society within which we exist. We are also a group of men and women leading a common life according to a rule. We have a similar character. We have agreement. We have identity.

The word community means not only that you have things in common, but also that you have unity. So we have things in common, and we come together around that common Lord, faith, baptism, and confession. We have unity. We are a family. And there is much that holds us together.

Diversity

Within this unity we have diversity in our family. One of the reasons for our community standards is that we have a diverse community. In the midst of our doctrinal agreement, some of the members of this community are from more-conservative homes and churches than others. Others are from backgrounds of more-progressive practice (within our context of conservative evangelicalism).

Living in community means people from both sides of our spectrum sacrificing things, giving things up for the sake of others. God has brought us into this place for some wonderful reasons. He has brought us into community with fellow Christians who are different from us, who have different backgrounds from us, who have different perspectives. We learn from each other in this community, in this family. But we do so only through sacrifice—by giving some things up to live in community.

A Disciplined Community

We must continue to have a disciplined community that enables our students to learn and discipline themselves. We must give them habits that will enrich their lives. Our community standards are not always only moral in nature but they help us live together, and love together, and learn together in the way we ought. This college must yet continue its dedication to moral goodness. In a relativistic age, we must continue to teach and model before our students holy living that is rooted in a profound, disciplined relationship with Jesus Christ.

But when we become impatient with each other, let us never forget that we are a flawed community. We are not perfect. We are fallen. Let us encourage each other to realize that these flaws arise from our fallenness and yet urge one another to become what God wants us to be in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A Tight-Knit Family

One of the things about being a family is that we are small. I do not aspire to be always as small as we are now, but we must not forget that there are benefits to being small. God often uses small things to show that people who will accomplish His mission are not the great and mighty and powerful but the small people whom the world thinks are the least apt to carry out that mission.

We must teach our students, by instruction and example, the value of living in community, and what it contributes to preparing them to be leaders in the intellectual, spiritual, cultural, and public lives of their own communities.

Unity

At Welch College we are working together to foster a sense of unity. It is amazing to see it as we develop our faculty and staff, with a new, young generation of faculty and staff joining our seasoned veterans committed to the same mission, vision, and strategic plan. We are all working toward the same goals. My aim is to lead in a way that sees unity—indeed community—as vitally necessary to accomplishing our academic and spiritual goals.

The road ahead poses many challenges for Christian higher education. It will not be easy, but we must join hands and boldly traverse it together. By embodying the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, Welch College can accomplish the awesome task the Lord has set before us, thus bringing greater glory to Him and extending his rule over every area of life.

Faith and Learning

The last part of the phrase is, of course, “faith and learning.” This means that Holy Scripture is integrated with every subject, whether the natural sciences, psychology, literature, business, or history. No matter what the subject is, we aim to view it from a thoroughly Christian perspective.

Integration

That does not mean that we simply take a secular subject and sprinkle moralisms and Bible verses over it. Rather, we attempt to integrate the Christian worldview with everything we think and do, including our academic subjects. That is the task of our faculty: to integrate Christianity with the disciplines they teach.

We must teach our students that God created the world and said it was good, that He became incarnate in the world in the form of His son Jesus Christ, and that He aims to redeem this fallen world by the power of His Spirit through Christ’s work on the Cross.

Therefore, Christian students must be diligent students of the world that God has made. This will aid them in their calling to bring about transformation and redemption in this world.

Every Course Has a Purpose

We also need to continue to emphasize that every course has a purpose. Some students come wanting to study only their field, thinking that the arts and sciences are not necessary. We must not succumb to the contemporary notion that career preparation is the primary purpose of higher education. Every course in our curriculum has its purpose.

At Welch College we are more and more committed to our core curriculum, which will play a part in producing truly educated and well-rounded students who have a truly Christian mind. We must remain committed to educating our students in biblical studies and theology, which will enable them to forge for themselves a Christian worldview. But this theological orientation will not be limited to the Bible class; it will pervade all aspects of teaching and learning. That is why we place so much emphasis on our general education core curriculum at Welch College.

The New Welch College Core

Next year we will be rolling out the new Welch College Core—a core curriculum in the liberal arts that will enable us to further our vision of integrating faith and learning. (I plan to spend some time on this blog in the future discussing the new core.) Our goal is to produce graduates who understand God’s Word and how it relates to God’s world. The Welch College Core will help us to do that more consistently.

A Christian Community of Faith and Learning, Part 1

Students who are on our campus for very long grow accustomed to hearing the phrase “Christian Community of Faith and Learning.” That is our vision for Welch College: that it will be a Christian community of faith and learning, to use a phrase that has often been used by the Christian philosopher Arthur F. Holmes. That is what this college is. It is what it has always aspired to be, and it is what we want it to become, more and more, because we are on a progressive journey—a pilgrimage—to realize the will of God for ourselves individually and corporately.

A Christian Community

Let us consider the words, “Christian community of faith and learning.” The first thing we want people to know about this place, and what has led most of us here is that it is a Christian community. Spirituality pervades every aspect of this community. This is a spiritual community, a community that is led by the Spirit, energized by the Spirit, permeated by the Holy Spirit.

But we must understand that in this place, spirituality is not something that is off to the side, something special up in mid-air. The evangelist Francis Schaeffer often spoke of knowledge and life as a two-story house. He spoke of a lower story and an upper story. In the upper story is faith and emotions and love and religious things—spirituality. In the lower story is the rest of life, reason, the everyday decisions we make, the films we watch, the places we go, the things we involve ourselves in, politics, math.

Schaeffer said that so often Christians tend radically to separate those two stories of the house—the upper story and the lower story. Their faith, the upper story, the spiritual dimension of their lives, is radically separated from the rest of life.

A Whole-Life Vision of Spirituality

The vision of spirituality to which this institution aspires is that all of life is spiritual. There is no radical separation of the upper story and the lower story, of faith and reason, of grace and nature. We can and must take every thought, even the secular ones, captive to the obedience of Christ.

This vision means that spirituality is not limited to the chapel period, or to the Christian service project, or the dormitory prayer meeting. Spirituality is also an academic issue. It is an issue of the discipleship of the mind. It is a social issue, a cultural issue. It touches our relationships, our stewardship of our bodies. It touches every aspect of this community, not just what we tend to think of as the “spiritual” parts. We must let spirituality pervade our lives here.

What Do We Mean by “Spirituality”?

When we talk about spirituality, we mean that Jesus Christ came into this world to redeem all things, to save us from sin and death and hell, to save us from our selves which were alienated from Him. We mean that this Good News of Christ is found in the Bible which is the lively Word of God, without error in all that it affirms; and in that very written Word of God, we find the living Word of God, Who alone can save us and set us free.

As Jesus said, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. The reason we have our students study the Bible is that it alone is the truth that, through the power of the Spirit, guides us into all truth and teaches us the truth about ourselves and the world. And that truth will set us free.

If we are to fulfill our mission in this century, we must continue to emphasize that spirituality is about applying the truth of God’s Word to everyday life—to everything. We must emphasize that truly Christian higher education is not just about taking “spiritual” thoughts or religious thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, but every thought in all of life.

Calling

Another aspect of our being a Christian community of faith and learning that we must stress is that we are all called, called according to God’s purpose. God loves us all and has a plan for us, and we are all called, not only according to God’s salvific purpose, but also according to His purpose for our life’s work.

One student may be called to be a shepherd of God’s flock. Another may be called to Nepal or France or Indonesia or Brazil to carry the message of the Gospel to the people of another culture. Another may be called to be a stay-at-home mother. Another may be called to go into the workforce as a businessperson or teacher and live out the gospel in the everyday warp and woof of life.

No matter what God calls our students to, we believe they will be engaged in Christian ministry, in the service of Christ’s church, both in the church and in the world. That is some of what we mean by Christian community.

Full-Orbed Education

I remember with fondness conversations I had with Dr. L. C. Johnson, the founding president of Welch College, before his death. He stressed to me the importance of educating all kinds of students, with all kinds of callings—those called into full-time ministry and those called to be salt and light in the other professions.

Ministry Education

Yet Dr. Johnson stressed to me that he believed that, at its center, the college was commissioned to provide education for ministers, missionaries, and other church leaders. Without a force of well-educated young people called to serve God in full-time church vocations, our churches would not survive. Thus the college had to provide these laborers.

This is still the case, and as our community of faith grows and we launch out into deeper and more difficult waters in this new cultural matrix, we need more vocational Christian ministers than ever before. We must dedicate ourselves anew to educating preachers of the Word who will take a firm stand for God and truth in an age when divine truth is hard to find, shepherds who will lovingly lead their flocks and feed them the good Word of God, evangelists who will speak words of reconciliation to those who are “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.”

We must commit ourselves to producing cross-cultural missionaries who will take the Gospel of God into dangerous and exotic places like Afghanistan and the Ivory Coast, or into places closer to home like the Nashville jails or urban Chicago.

Adapting Ministry Education to New Contexts

This will mean adapting our ministry education to new contexts. It will mean, for example, providing online ministry education for mid-career adults who have responded to God’s call to ministry yet in this current economic environment cannot pull up stakes and move their families to Nashville to attend college. This is why we have started offering fully online associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Christian Ministry.

It will also mean moving into the arena of graduate theological education, beginning with an M.A. in theology and ministry and eventually moving into the establishment of a full-fledged Free Will Baptist theological seminary.

We remain committed to a full-orbed education that brings together an emphasis on Christian ministry education with a commitment to providing education across the disciplines and career fields. In this way our students will be enabled to respond to God as stewards of the gifts and callings He has given them, and be the leaders in the church and the world He has called them to be.

Beauty and Excellence

One thing Dr. L. C. Johnson said to me that will always stay with me was that he founded the college with a vision of cultural excellence. Perhaps this was why everything he touched gleamed with beauty and excellence and refinement.

This commitment to excellence was evident not only in his demand for gracious and considerate behavior for others—what is commonly called etiquette—but also in his appreciation of the arts. Our mission at Welch College must continue to be imbued with this sense of beauty and excellence and high cultural ideals.

People cannot be most productive in their vocation unless they are surrounded by beauty. Thus, we must commit ourselves to fostering a climate for the creation of beauty—from our teaching in the classroom, to chapel, to an ongoing emphasis on the arts—musical, dramatic, and visual—to beauty and elegance in the way we do our jobs, to the professional and personal etiquette we teach and model before our students.

A Historical Tension

Among Free Will Baptists there has always been a tension between anti-intellectualism and a Christian concern for the life of the mind. This tension existed among us as early as the middle seventeenth century. Two examples among our English General Baptist forebears are instructive: The London preacher Edward Barber reacted to being kept out of the schools of the Church of England by denouncing all humane learning. Yet the Lincolnshire farmer and tailor Thomas Grantham became an accomplished linguist, theologian, preacher, and writer through a sustained study of the Bible in the original languages, classical literature, and the Christian Fathers.

When Benjamin Laker, Paul Palmer’s father-in-law, moved to this side of the Atlantic in the late 1600s, he greatly valued his books on theology and other subjects, including Christianismus Primitivus, Grantham’s theological magnum opus. This same concern for education exhibited itself with the small band of worshippers Laker left behind after his death, who appealed to their brothers and sisters in England for either a preacher or for books—and this despite the fact that they and their posterity were kept out of institutions of higher education until late in the eighteenth century.

Zeal with Knowledge

This is the kind of tradition that has been perpetuated by Welch College throughout its history, and we remain devoted to this vision of Christian education. As Dr. Johnson said in a sermon, “Education is not to tame zeal, but to channel it.” We must renew our commitment to opposing that kind of zeal that is “not according to knowledge.”

Our Orthodox Tradition

A major strength of Welch College is that we remain firmly rooted in the Great Tradition of Christian orthodoxy our forebears have bequeathed to us with an unblemished inheritance of Christian faith and practice. The mediator of this tradition has been our churches that make up the National Association of Free Will Baptists. They have insured that we remain on a steady course of Christian orthodoxy and the faith and practice that our fathers and mothers believed—and we believe—most closely reflect the witness of Holy Scripture. Welch College must be a wise steward of that heritage of Christian confession—ensuring by rigorous Christian scholarship and spiritual vigilance that our inheritance remains intact in a new context of religious relativism.

Because of the debt of gratitude we owe to our churches, we must commit ourselves to serving them. Our college must not only be interested in what the denomination can do for it. We must be concerned about what we can do for our denomination. We must strive to instill in our students loyalty to our denomination and our confession of faith.

A Vision for Welch College: Stewards of Our Tradition

I want to share with my readers over the next few blog posts some thoughts about my vision as president for Welch College, and I want to start with some reflections on our tradition of faith and learning at Welch.

Stewardship of Our Tradition

I am convinced that anything great we accomplish at Welch College will depend on our stewardship of our tradition. Winston Churchill was surely right when he said, “The further backward you look, the further forward you can see.” We must face the future armed with the best of our heritage and with an understanding of our times that will enable us to contextualize our tradition to meet the needs of a new and complex era.

However, in our attempt to do this, we must not be caught up in contentment with the status quo. We must reach back within our tradition to recover a sense of identity that will enable us to be the Christian community of faith and learning that God has called us to be for our time.

Goethe said,

“What you have as heritage, take now as task,
for thus you will make it your own.”

I think Goethe’s wisdom is instructive for our college today. Only by intentionally working at an identity that maintains continuity with the past can we hope to have an identity that will give us meaning and purpose for the future.

Of course, this means that we cannot be satisfied just to rely on our recent memory—in our own lifetimes—and rely on the comfortable and the familiar. We must reach further back into our memory as a college and as a people of faith and recover principles and attitudes that motivated our forefathers to greatness for our Lord—what Timothy George has called “renewal through retrieval.”

Building on a Foundation

As president of Welch College, I am one who is building on a foundation that was laid by men and women who have given their lives in the work of God. They are too numerous to mention. Among the most influential of these have been the four presidents of the college: L. C. Johnson, L. R. Ennis, Charles A. Thigpen, and C. Thomas Malone. My aim is to be a faithful steward of the legacy these men have left to me.

We owe so much to President L. C. Johnson, the founding president of our college. His life and work has been an inspiration to us all, and it changed the course of history for Free Will Baptists. Dr. Johnson had the uncanny ability to bring together faith, reason, and life in an unusual way that profoundly marked the lives of countless people.

He founded this college at a time, during World War II and immediately following the Great Depression, when higher education was among the least of things on the minds of Free Will Baptists. Those were heady times for L. C. Johnson and that small band of teachers and students that surrounded him seventy-one years ago. A sense of anticipation was in the air. They were not afraid to take risks. With God strengthening them, they could do all things.

I can only imagine what must have been going through the mind of this twenty-eight-year-old pastor from South Georgia who had been chosen to lead this new Free Will Baptist college. Before he died, Dr. Johnson told me some things about those early years that will always remain with me, things I think should help us confirm our course for the future. Early on, he said, he opposed the narrowness of some in our churches who were pushing for a simple Bible institute model. He believed that we needed a broad-based liberal arts curriculum.

Educating the Whole Person

The best way to equip men and women to serve Christ and His church was to educate them in the Scriptures as well as the ancient tradition of liberal arts that stretches back to the Middle Ages and beyond. But just as strenuously, he insisted that all truth was God’s truth, and that these arts and sciences must be taught from the vantage point of a Christian worldview.

In those early years, most of the students were studying to be ministers and missionaries, though many went on to distinguish themselves in a host of other fields. Yet Dr. Johnson insisted on educating the whole person, body, mind, and spirit, from the vantage point of a Christian worldview. This was, he believed, the best way to produce Christian leaders in the churches who could transform their world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is something that we need to emphasize more than ever at Welch College, especially given the fact that for half a century our college has been educating students in a variety of fields to serve Christ, His church, and His world. This is reflected in our Institutional Purpose statement, which states our commitment to “preparing men and women for church-related ministries or for careers that are not church related but are appropriate for Christians who live to serve Christ. In both cases the college is fulfilling the traditional Protestant vision of the sacredness of Divine vocation.”

Since the nineteen sixties, Leroy Forlines, Robert Picirilli, and others have been reiterating this grand dream of L. C. Johnson’s—the convergence of theological studies with a vision of the liberal arts and career preparation that is biblical-theological in focus. We must continue in this generation to make this dream a reality.

A Holistic Approach to Christian Higher Education

At Welch College we are resisting the call from so many in the Bible College movement to drive a wedge between theology and ministry on the one hand and the liberal arts and professions on the other. This approach sees the only justification for adding a field of study as being its usefulness for full-time church ministry—e.g., “We will offer a major in communications to prepare people to work at Christian radio stations.” We remain committed to the goal of producing Christian professionals who will be salt and light in the secular professions, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

At the same time, we must resist the call from others in the Christian higher education arena to relegating Bible and theology and ministry and church leadership to a single department, thus hermetically sealing it off from the rest of the campus. We want to continue to see theology as the “queen of the sciences.” Our desire is to produce graduates who have a solid grasp on the implications of biblical teaching for the Christian life, for the church, and for all of life.

I believe this holistic approach to Christian higher education will help us maintain our historic commitments while at the same time reaching out to more students. One of our greatest challenges is to reach out to the 90% of Free Will Baptist students who do not attend Free Will Baptist colleges. We must strive to give those called to non-church-related careers a keen sense of their divine calling and their unique place in fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission to His saints. By keeping the above aims in the center of our view, we can move forward in fulfilling this goal.

Parable Of The Rich Young Ruler – Part Three

Two Groups

Now I want to stretch this passage a little to apply to two groups of readers. Some of you might be exactly like the rich young ruler, and you’ve never made any sort of real decision to follow Christ. You may have had some emotional experiences in the past. You may be good-hearted and honest and really think Christ has the answer, but you’ve never really been willing to give up what’s dearest to you to follow Christ.

But there are others of you who are certain you are a Christ-follower. You’re experiencing sanctification, growth in holiness. You’ve set yourself apart, consecrated yourself, for God’s pure and holy use.  But you’re holding out on God. There are things in your life you’re just not willing to give up to follow him wherever he might lead you.

For both of you, right now is the most important time you’ll ever have to decide to follow Christ fully, to follow Christ with your whole heart, not half-heartedly. Jesus is calling on you to deny yourself, to bear his cross, to follow him wherever he leads you and never look back, never have any reservations, never have any regrets.

No Reserves

Many of my readers will remember the story of William Borden. In 1904 Borden graduated from high school. He was heir to the Borden family fortune, and received a trip around the world as a graduation present from his parents. His travels confirmed in him a desire to be a missionary. His friends and family were incredulous at his desire to throw himself away on the mission field. In response, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.”

Borden was a spiritual leader on the campus of Yale University, where he chose to attend college, and he gained the respect of his fellow students for his singular devotion to give himself wholly to the service of Christ. While at Yale, one of his journal entries read: “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.” Borden started a small morning prayer group at Yale that resulted in a spiritual awakening on campus. One thousand of Yale’s 1,300 students were meeting in such prayer groups by the time Borden was a senior.

No Retreats

Borden sensed a calling to minister to the Muslim Kansu people of China. When he graduated from Yale, he turned down several high-paying job offers, and was derided by many people for his commitment to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Never discouraged from his mission, he wrote two more words in his Bible: “No retreats.”

No Regrets

After graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary, Borden set out for Egypt. There he began to study Arabic so that he could preach the gospel to the Muslims to whom he was hoping to minister. But his efforts were to be short-lived. While in Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead. When his Bible was recovered, it was seen that he had written two more words in it. Underneath the words “No reserves” and “No retreats,” he had written: “No regrets.”

Questions We All Must Ask

All of us, no matter where we are in our spiritual pilgrimage, must ask ourselves this question: Will we be like the rich young ruler? Will we go away sorrowfully because we’re simply not willing to give up riches and status and anything that stands between us and service to God?

Or will we be like Peter, who said down in verse 28 of this chapter, “We have left all and followed you.” Jesus’s reply to Peter when he said that was that everything the disciples left behind to follow him would be restored “a hundredfold now in this time . . . and in the age to come.”

Will we be like William Borden, and follow God—“No reserves. No retreats. No regrets”?

Will we leave it all behind to follow Christ wherever he leads us? “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Are we willing to leave it all behind?

The Things We Leave Behind

Michael Card sings a song about this very decision the disciples made to leave what was most important to them behind to follow Christ. Meditate on the message in these lyrics:

There sits Simon, so foolishly wise.
Proudly he’s tending his nets.
Then Jesus calls, and the boats drift away,
And all that he owns he forgets.

More than the nets he abandoned that day,
He found that his pride was soon drifting away.
It’s hard to imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.

Matthew was mindful of taking the tax,

Pressing the people to pay.
Hearing the call, he responded in faith,

And followed the Light and the Way.

Leaving the people so puzzled he found,
The greed in his heart was no longer around.

And it’s hard to imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.

Every heart needs to be set free
From possessions that hold it so tight;
For freedom’s not found in the things that we own,
It’s the power to do what is right.
With Jesus our only possession,
The giving becomes our delight.
We can’t imagine the freedom we find

From the things we leave behind.

We show a love for the world in our lives
By worshiping goods we possess
Jesus says, lay all your treasures aside,
And love God above all the rest.

Because when we say “no” to the things of the world
We open our hearts to the love of the Lord,

And it’s hard to imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.

Oh, it’s hard to imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.

Let us pray for the grace to scorn the things of this world—the riches and status and values of this present evil age that are vying for our allegiance. Let us take a hard look at our lives, at what is deeply important to us, and let us resolve to leave it behind, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, without reservation, never looking back. No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.

Parable Of The Rich Young Ruler – Part Two

The Second Table

Jesus talks to the man about the second table of the law, the second table of the Ten Commandments. That second table talks about our duties to other human beings. And Matthew’s account gives Jesus’s summary of the second table of the law—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What Jesus was doing here was setting it up so that the young man could realize that his deeper heart attitude was not fulfilling the second table of the law, which is about self-denial and putting others first.

Keeping the Law

So how did the young man respond?  Well, he doesn’t get it. He proudly boasts of his law-keeping: “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Not only is this arrogant, but it also shows just how clueless he is about his own heart and life. He was fooling himself! He was deceiving himself! He was looking at the law in a shallow, surface way, one-dimensionally.

Jesus knew the young man’s heart, and he was challenging him to think deeply about how much he had really obeyed God’s law. Listen to how Jesus responds: He looks the man right in the face, and verse 21 says he “loved him.” I love the way Mark says that here: “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him.”

Unmasking Self-Deception

Jesus loved this man just as he loves you and me, but in loving him he confronts him with the emptiness of his own spiritual pride and his own self-confidence. This doesn’t seem loving. But it’s the ultimate love. And Jesus lovingly unmasks the young man’s self-deception and says to him,

There’s one more thing you need to do.

Sell all you have, give it to the poor.

Take up your cross, and follow me!

The Law’s Deeper Meaning

Jesus’s whole point is that the young man doesn’t really understand the deeper meaning of the second table of the law. He doesn’t get it. He’s looking only on the surface. But Jesus is forcing him to look deeper. Do you really love your neighbor as yourself? Then give up all you have for your neighbors, and take up your cross and follow me!

Jesus’s point here is not that everyone has to give all his material possessions away to be a Christ-follower. He’s speaking directly to the young man’s most profound need. You see, the young man was really breaking both tables of the law. By not being willing to give up all he had for the poor, he was breaking the second table of the law, summed up by the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But by not denying himself, taking up his cross, and following Jesus, he was breaking the first table of the law, summed by the command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Breaking the First Table

By not denying himself, taking up his cross, and following Jesus, the young man was breaking the first table of the law, summed by the command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Jesus is driving home to the young man the necessity of self-denial, cross-bearing. That’s what it takes to follow Christ.

Cheap Easy-Believism

Too many Christians in our time have adopted a mentality of what F. Leroy Forlines calls cheap easy-believism. It’s easy—just believe in Jesus, just say a prayer, and you’ll get a ticket to heaven. Your life doesn’t have to change, you don’t have to deny yourself, you don’t have to take up your cross. You don’t have to set yourself apart for God’s pure and holy and special use.

But this is not the way of Jesus. Instead, Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Not Willing to Give Up

But the rich young ruler wasn’t willing to give it all up to follow Christ. The text says he was “sad at this word.” This should make us sad, when we read these words: “But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” He went away sorrowful, not willing to give up what was dear to him to follow Christ.

Christ is doing the same thing to you as he did to the rich young ruler—he’s calling you to sacrifice some of the very things that mean the most to you to follow him fully.

Parable Of The Rich Young Ruler – Part 1

Over the next few blog posts, I want us to take a deep, honest look into our hearts. I want to consider a young man who came to Jesus but wasn’t willing to give up what was most important to him to follow Jesus. And I hope my readers will meditate prayerfully on this as we look at Mark 10:17-22, asking ourselves, “Am I like this young man?”

Parable Of The Rich Young Ruler

When we look at the character and background of this young man, we’ll find that he wasn’t really that different from a lot of us. Yes, we learn when we read the gospels of Matthew and Luke that he was both rich and influential. And our first reaction is, “Hey, I’m neither rich nor influential. After all, he was a rich young ruler!”

Rich and Influential

But think about that for a minute. Compared to most of the world’s populati0n throughout history, and even today, we’re all very rich. Think about it. We have goods and services and technologies that only kings could have dreamed about in a bygone age—and in third-world countries today. And even if we don’t have the money to buy what it seems like all our friends have, chances are, many of us are deeply tempted and motivated by material things.

What about the influential part? We might say, “I’m not a ruler.” But, in our culture, with the weird value it places on celebrity and popularity, many of us are tempted by status or popularity. So the background of this rich, influential young man, whose status and wealth was too important to part with, might not be as far away from our hearts as we might think.

Honest Seeker

What else do we notice about this young man? Well, he was an honest seeker, unlike the scribes and Pharisees. He came to Jesus, good-hearted and with positive motivations. You can see that in the way he approached Jesus: He really believed that Jesus was a good teacher and could reveal to him how to get eternal life. He seemed genuinely interested in his eternal destiny, and he had initial confidence in Jesus as a teacher and spiritual guide (v. 17). He even had a modicum of humility. Verse 17 says he knelt before Jesus. This young man was what we sometimes call a “good moral person.”

A Divided Mind

But he had a divided mind. Even though part of him respected Christ and believed Christ had the answer to how to get eternal life, another part of him really thought he knew the answer already. Part of him wanted to serve Christ. But another part of him wanted to trust in his own good works. Part of him wanted to follow Christ. But another part of him wanted to cling to the world.

This reminds me of St. Paul in Romans 7: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. . . . For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”

This young man had a divided mind. He really wanted what Jesus had to offer, but really he thought he already had it all figured out.

No One Is Good but God

The young man asked Jesus to tell him what good thing he could do to obtain eternal life, and Jesus said something unexpected. Jesus was in the habit of saying unexpected things. And he asked the man, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God.” Jesus wanted the young man to realize that He’s not just a man. He’s God, and He alone is the way to eternal life (v. 18).

Keep the Commandments

But then he turns around and says something else unexpected: “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Now Jesus here isn’t going against the teaching of the Bible that we’re saved by faith alone. He’s trying to bring the conversation to the point of getting the young man to see that he really has failed to keep the law.

What Jesus said is, of course, true: All those who perfectly keep the law will obtain eternal life. The problem is, no one has perfectly kept the law, except Him. So the only way we can inherit eternal life is to have his perfect law-keeping credited to us, and to have his death on the cross to shield us from the awful wrath of God against our sins.

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