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Ministerial Students Making an Impact

Even though we offer 40 programs of study, from biology to teacher education, from business to psychology, ministerial training remains the core of what we do at Welch College, and we hope to expand that one day soon with the addition of master’s-level seminary education.

The ministerial program is alive and well at Welch College. More than half the men on our campus are preparing for some sort of preaching ministry, and our ministerial students take every opportunity they can to preach the Word of God.

The frequent preaching tours these students take throughout the academic year exemplify their dedication. On these tours, a vanload of ministerial students will go to a certain region and then fan out to preach and represent Welch College at churches in that area. I thought my readers would be interested in this letter I received recently from Eric Brown, a pastor in Alma, Georgia.

Please pray for these Welch ministerial students as they prepare for Great Commission ministry in the context of the local church.

Dear Dr. Pinson,

Recently the South Georgia Association of Free Will Baptists was blessed to host a Welch College preaching trip. The young men who came exceeded our expectations. They did a fantastic job representing themselves, the College, and Christ in an impressive way. The other pastors who hosted a student described them as confident, respectful, outgoing, and best of all great preachers. This has been one of the best crops of “preacher boys” sent our way. They represented well the biblical vision of the man of God I know that you’re personally committed on producing at Welch.

I hosted junior Dustin Walters. He is a gifted young man who is well on his way to becoming a great preacher. I look forward to hearing great things from him in the future.

Thanks for all your hard work at the helm of our Flagship College. Praying for your strength and influence to permeate a generation of young men for Free Will Baptists and God’s glory!

Sincerely,

Rev. Eric L. Brown, Pastor
Pine Level Free Will Baptist Church
Alma, Georgia

Advancing the Gospel Through Online Learning

It’s my privilege to announce a late luncheon with the theme “Advancing the Gospel through Online Learning” at the upcoming Forum14 conference at Welch College. This event will be held Monday, March 10, at 1:30 p.m.

At Welch College, our mission is to educate leaders to serve Christ, His Church, and His world through Biblical thought and life. This mission is repeated in our catalogs, syllabi, and website. It’s reiterated in chapel services, classes, and promotional events.

A good mission statement communicates through what it does not say as well as through what it says. Notice that our mission does not limit itself to people who can live in a dorm and attend classes during the workday.

We have designed our online programs with the adult learner in mind—that working adult who desires ministry training on the associate’s or bachelor’s degree level, or who wants to complete an associate’s degree in business or general studies for professional advancement, or individuals who just want to complete that degree they never finished.

Through Internet technology, we’re bringing the classroom to you, to help you succeed in finding your place in fulfilling this great mission. Finally, there’s a way to receive the quality Christian education you desire in a way that’s flexible—100% online—with hands-on faculty and support staff. And what’s more, it’s affordable, with full financial aid opportunities available.

In just a few weeks, on March 9-11, Welch College will host its Forum14 conference. Servants of God from around the world will speak on important issues. Workshops and seminars will provide opportunities to deal with a number of ministry issues. I invite you to attend the “Advancing the Gospel through Online Learning” luncheon Monday, March 10, at 1:30.

If you are interested in a fully accredited, Bible-based degree program, this is for you. You probably know of people in your congregation who could become more effective in their work in the local church through this kind of program. If you’d like to attend, let us know (luncheon space is limited), using the contact link or envelope icon above.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Unhappiness and Inordinate Love

Recently I came across the following quote from John Fawcett’s Christ Precious to Those Who Believe. Fawcett (1739-1817) was a British Baptist minister, theologian, poet, and hymn writer (most famous for writing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”).

This quotation gets to the heart of why we are so often unhappy and lack joy in life. I love the way Fawcett ties the lack of happiness when we lose temporal things we enjoy to Augustine’s concept of ordinate (proper, well-ordered) loves or affections, an idea C. S. Lewis talks about in The Four Loves.

“When the loss of any temporal enjoyment casts us into excessive despondency and dejection—it is evident that what we have lost, was the object of our inordinate love. The most innocent attachments cease to be innocent, when they press too strongly upon us! To cleave to any created object, and to look for happiness from it—is to make an idol of it—and set it up in God’s place. Should this object be a friend, a brother, a wife, or a child—the idolatry is still odious in the eyes of that God, to whom we owe our chief affection. Our warmest passions, our most fervent love, desires, hopes, and confidences—should always have God for their object. It is His desire that our happiness should not center in any of the good things of this life.”

Russell Moore at FORUM14

I am excited to have my good friend Russell Moore speak at this year’s Forum14/Bible Conference March 9-11. Dr. Moore and I have had a growing friendship since he first delivered the Leroy Forlines Lectures at Welch College several years ago. He has since been back to our campus a number of times to visit and speak.

Dr. Moore was recently named president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Before that, he was academic vice president at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is author of a number of books, including The Kingdom of Christ (Crossway) andTempted and Tried (Crossway).

It was a special privilege to be at Dr. Moore’s recent installation as president of the ERLC at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. (see his address “A Prophetic Minority: Kingdom, Culture, and Mission in a New Era” here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrVfcbRNpwo). In this new role, he will be one of the most visible evangelicals in public life, representing evangelical Christians on the major news networks and in other public venues.

One thing I like about Russell is his ability to speak the truth in love. Even when he says things that, to a secular public, are very difficult truths, he says them in a way that is loving and intelligent and deserves a hearing. He calls it “convictional kindness in the public square.”

Too many religious conservatives who have spoken to issues of public life have done so with a scowl, and too many others have put all their eggs in the political basket, almost believing that politics was the real savior in the modern world. But on the other extreme, too many evangelicals have been politically quietist, retreating from the public square and cultural engagement.

In his new role, Russell Moore will avoid both these extremes. He is taking on the mantle of Carl F. H. Henry in The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. This balance is so needed in today’s evangelical environment, with people on one hand calling for evangelicals to be silent for a time in the public square, and people on the other hand redefining the mission of the church as much in terms of saving the whales as saving souls.

At his core, however, Russell Moore is simply a powerful preacher of the Word of God. I encourage you to come to Forum14 to hear him.

Dr. Roger Olson – Are Arminians Necessarily Synergists?

Recently I read a blog post by Roger Olson on how one does not have to agree with Arminius to be an Arminian. It can be found here.

Olson made several good points in the article, and he is certainly correct in his main assertion that one can differ from the finer points of Arminius and still be an Arminian. Despite his desire to carve out a place for Open Theists in the Arminian camp, which of course would have been very troubling to Arminius, it’s a good and thought-provoking post. I agree especially with his view that Molinism is inconsistent with Arminianism.

Yet the main thing that stuck out to me about Olson’s essay was his comment about Arminius’s views being a kind of “evangelical synergism” (a term he borrows from Donald Bloesch). Thus he says, more than once, that Anabaptists like Balthasar Hubmaier and Menno Simons were precursors of Arminius in this “evangelical synergist” mold.

I used to think in this same vein. One of my first published articles was entitled “A Free Will Baptist in the Reformation,” and it was about the sixteenth-century Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier—that great feet-washing, believer-baptizing, libertarian-free-will-affirming Anabaptist who also had a view on church and state much more like Thomas Helwys and the English Baptists in the following century than the mainstream Anabaptists of his own century.

But it was when I was doing a doctoral seminar paper on the soteriology of the first Baptists, John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, for Prof. Richard Greaves at Florida State University that I began to see a difference between the synergism of John Smyth, who became a Mennonite soteriologically, and the much more grace-oriented views of Thomas Helwys. He parted ways with Smyth in large part because the latter had embraced Mennonite views and left behind more Reformed views of original sin and of justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Helwys would never have wanted to be called a synergist. He wanted to eschew any hint of cooperating or working together with God in salvation. He even disliked the term free will! I began to see, largely through the work of Alvin Beachy’s The Concept of Grace in the Radical Reformation, that Anabaptist notions of grace, including those like Hubmaier’s, Menno’s, and Smyth’s, were semi-Pelagian, unlike those of Helwys or Jacobus Arminius [1].

I began to shy away from the use of the word synergist, and came to believe that thinkers like Arminius and Helwys, who had a much more gracious emphasis in their soteriology and doctrines of human depravity and inability than the Anabaptists, would have done the same.

Recently I came across a book, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace, that argued that Arminius himself was a synergist. The authors, Thomas McCall and Keith Stanglin, say, “Some scholars have denied that Arminius is a ‘synergist,’ yet his definition of subsequent grace is precisely ‘synergistic,’ which is simply the Greek equivalent of ‘cooperative’ (derived from Latin).” Their main culprit, whom they cite in the footnote, is me [2].

Like my colleague at Welch College Robert Picirilli, I do not think Arminius called himself or would ever have called himself a synergist because of the semi-Pelagian implications of the term. It implies that people are working together with God in bringing about their salvation. Stanglin and McCall themselves quote Augustine himself a few paragraphs later using the same language of subsequent cooperating grace as Arminius used. Arminius’s use of this same phrase does not render him a “synergist,” and he wouldn’t at all have been comfortable with the term.

I would say of Arminius what Gregory Graybill says of Martin Luther’s associate Phillipp Melanchthon in his recent monographEvangelical Free Will. Conversion for Melanchthon, Graybill insists, “was a passive reception of merit rather than an active cooperative work that earned merit. It was not synergism!” Graybill distinguishes Melanchthon’s view from that of Peter Lombard, which “required God and the human working together in synergism.” Just as it is unfair for Lutheran theologians to attribute a term to Melanchthon that was readily associated with his later followers, it is even more unfair to saddle Arminius with a term that he did not employ which was foreign to his theological context [3].

Stanglin rightly chides scholars for importing decontextualized dogmatic categories into their understanding of Arminius that are far-removed from his context. But I think to saddle Arminius with the designation “synergist,” when it was so far-removed from his own Reformed theological categories and terminology, is to de-contextualize Arminius’s thought.

I think Picirilli and Arthur Skevington Wood’s approach is preferable: that Arminius’s views do not represent “a form of synergism in which God’s work and man’s work cooperate, but rather a relationship in which God’s will and work within man [are] welcomed in an attitude of trust and submission” [4]. Arminius would have been much more comfortable with the language used by my colleague at Welch College, Leroy Forlines, who, in his book Classical Arminianism, uses the terminology of “conditional monergism” rather than synergism [5]. This approach is shared by Arminius scholars such as Carl Bangs and William den Boer, as well as Episcopius scholar Mark Ellis [6].

This same train of thought is pursued by scholars such as Southeastern Seminary professors Kenneth Keathley and Jeremy Evans, and Notre Dame’s Richard Cross. In various writings, these gentlemen make the case for “monergism with resistibility of grace.” Both Evans and Keathley have latched onto Richard Cross’s argument in his article “Anti-Pelagianism and the Resistibility of Grace.” [7]

Cross asks, “Suppose we do adopt . . . that there can be no natural active human cooperation in justification. Would such a position require us to accept the irresistibility of grace?” (Evans, 260). Cross, along with Keathley and Evans, thinks it would not. Evans calls this “monergism with resistibility of grace.” Keathley and Evans cite Cross’s “ambulatory model,” according to which the sinner is like an unconscious person who is rescued by EMTs and wakes up in an ambulance and does not resist the EMTs’ medical actions to save his life.

This attempt to maintain a libertarian free will posture on divine sovereignty and human freedom while avoiding the notion of synergism reminds me of Arminius’s desire to maintain “the greatest possible distance from Pelagianism.” [8] Evans remarks that this approach means that “the only contribution the person makes is not of positive personal status, as strands of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism hold,” because salvation is “wrought by God (Eph 2:8-9). So people do not “pull [themselves] up by [their] own bootstraps.” Instead, saving faith is a “gift freely given from above and does not reside in any natural capacity of the person (Phil 1:28-29).” Furthermore, Evans maintains, affirming monergism together with resistible grace “helps explain how God desires that none perish (1 Tim 2:3)” (Evans, 261).

So I think it’s a good idea for Arminians to find ways to avoid the terminology of synergism. I think scholars such as Forlines, Picirilli, Wood, Bangs, den Boer, Ellis, Cross, Keathley, and Evans have good instincts in wanting to stay away from it. And I think Arminius (and Helwys) would have agreed.
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[1] Beachy, The Concept of Grace in the Radical Reformation (Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1977).

[2] Stanglin and McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace (New York: Oxford UP, 2012), 152-53.

[3] Graybill, Evangelical Free Will: Phillipp Melanchthon’s Doctrinal Journey on the Origins of Faith (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010), 297.

[4] Picirilli approvingly quoting Wood in Grace, Faith, Free Will (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 162. See Wood, “The Declaration of Sentiments: The Theological Testament of Arminius,” Evangelical Quarterly 65 (1993), 111-29.

[5] F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (Nashville: Randall House, 2011), 264, 297.

[6] Bangs, “Arminius and Reformed Theology” doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago, 1958 (where he boldly states, “Arminius was a monergist” [166]); den Boer, “‘Cum delectu’: Jacob Arminius’s Praise for and Critique of Calvin and His Theology,” Church History and Religious Culture 91 (2011), 83-84; see also den Boer, God’s Twofold Love: The Theology of Jacob Arminius (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010); Ellis, Simon Episcopius’ Doctrine of Original Sin (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), 84. This perspective concurs with what Richard Muller said in an earlier work: “It is difficult to label [Arminius’s approach] synergism” (Muller, “The Priority of the Intellect in the Soteriology of Jacobus Arminius,” Westminster Theological Journal 55 [1993], 70. In a more recent article, however, Muller characterizes Arminius as a synergist: “Arminius and the Reformed Tradition,” 29).

[7] Cross, “Anti-Pelagianism and the Resistibility of Grace,” Faith and Philosophy 22 (2005), 199-210; Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 88, 103-08; Evans, “Reflections on Determinism and Human Freedom,” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 253-74; cf. Kevin Timpe, “Grace and Controlling What We Do Not Cause,” Faith and Philosophy 24 (2007), 284-99.

[8] The Works of James Arminius (Nashville: Randall House, 2007), 1:764.

Ajith Fernando Coming to Forum14

I am excited about hosting Ajith Fernando at the upcoming Forum14/Bible Conference at Welch College, March 9-11, 2014:http://www.welch.edu/forum14.

Ajith Fernando, internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and evangelist, is the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. Prior to his current position, Mr. Fernando served as the National Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka for 35 years. A graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary, he is a visiting lecturer and council president at Colombo Theological Seminary as well as visiting scholar at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto.

He is the author of fifteen books published in twenty languages. His books include titles such as Jesus Driven Ministry (Crossway), Sharing the Truth in Love: How to Relate to People of Other Faiths(Discovery House), and Reclaiming Love: Radical Relationships in a Complex World (Zondervan). His book The Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry (Crossway) was awarded the Christianity Today Book of the Year Award for church and pastoral leadership.

Fernando is actively involved in a grassroots ministry to reach the urban poor in his area with the gospel. He and his wife Nelun are active in a Methodist Church near Colombo, Sri Lanka, ministering primarily to younger people who are converts from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

I encourage you to come to the Forum14 conference and hear Ajith Fernando, along with Russell Moore, Jeff Manning, Jeff Nichols, Chris Talbot, and David Williford. Check out the official Ajith Fernando website at http://www.ajithfernando.org, and listen to his excellent sermon on “Revival” from the Gospel Coalition website: http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/entry/revival.

No Little People, No Little Places

I want to share with you an excerpt from Francis Schaeffer’s No Little People [1]. Chapter 1 of that book, “No Little People, No Little Places,” was important for me early in my ministry, and I commend it and the entire book to you.

With God there are no little people.

Moses’ Rod

One thing that has encouraged me, as I have wrestled with such questions in my own life, is the way God used Moses’ rod, a stick of wood. Many years ago, when I was a young pastor just out of seminary, this study of the use of Moses’ rod, which I called “God so used a stick of wood,” was a crucial factor in giving me the courage to press on. . . .

Consider the mighty ways in which God used a dead stick of wood. “God so used a stick of wood” can be a banner cry for each of us. Though we are limited and weak in talent, physical energy and psychological strength, we are not less than a stick of wood. But as the rod of Moses had to become the rod of God, so that which is me must become the me of God. Then, I can become useful in God’s hands. The Scripture emphasizes that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God. There are no little people and no big people in the true spiritual sense, but only consecrated and unconsecrated people. The problem for each of us is applying this truth to ourselves: Is Francis Schaeffer the Francis Schaeffer of God?

No Little Places

But if a Christian is consecrated, does this mean he will be in a big place instead of a little place? The answer, the next step, is very important: As there are no little people in God’s sight, so there are no little places. To be wholly committed to God in the place where God wants him—this is the creature glorified. In my writing and lecturing I put much emphasis on God’s being the infinite reference point which integrates the intellectual problems of life. He is to be this, but he must be the reference point not only in our thinking but in our living. This means being what he wants me to be, where he wants me to be.

Nowhere more than in America are Christians caught in the twentieth-century syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc. This is not so. Not only does God not say that size and spiritual power go together, but he even reverses this (especially in the teaching of Jesus) and tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us. We all tend to emphasize big works and big places, but all such emphasis is of the flesh. To think in such terms is simply to hearken back to the old, unconverted, egoist, self-centered Me. This attitude, taken from the world, is more dangerous to the Christian than fleshly amusement or practice. It is the flesh.

People in the world naturally want to boss others. Imagine a boy beginning work with a firm. He has a lowly place and is ordered around by everyone: Do this! Do that! Every dirty job is his. He is the last man on the totem pole, merely one of Rabbit’s friends-and-relations, in Christopher Robin’s terms. So one day when the boss is out, he enters the boss’s office, looks around carefully to see that no one is there and then sits down in the boss’s big chair. “Someday,” he says, “I’ll say ‘run’ and they’ll run.” This is man. And let us say with tears that a person does not automatically abandon this mentality when he becomes a Christian. In every one of us there remains a seed of wanting to be boss, of wanting to be in control and have the word of power over our fellows.

But the Word of God teaches us that we are to have a very different mentality:

But Jesus called them [his disciples] to him, and saith unto them, “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

Every Christian, without exception, is called into the place where Jesus stood. To the extent that we are called to leadership, we are called to ministry, even costly ministry. The greater the leadership, the greater is to be the ministry. The word minister is not a title of power but a designation of servanthood. There is to be no Christian guru. We must reject this constantly and carefully. A minister, a man who is a leader in the church of God (and never more needed than in a day like ours when the battle is so great) must make plain to the men, women, boys and girls who come to places of leadership that instead of lording their authority over others and allowing it to become an ego trip, they are to serve in humility. . . .

Jesus gave us a tremendous example:

Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded . . . . Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them (John 13:3-5, 13-17).

Note that Jesus says that if we do these things there will be happiness. It is not just knowing these things that brings happiness, it is doing them. Throughout Jesus’ teaching these two words know and do occur constantly, and always in that order. We cannot do until we know, but we can know without doing. The house built on the rock is the house of the man who knows and does. The house built on the sand is the house of the man who knows but does not do.

Christ washed the disciples’ feet and dried them with the towel with which he was girded, that is, with his own clothing. He intended this to be a practical example of the mentality and action that should be seen in the midst of the people of God. . . .

Being a Rod of God

The people who receive praise from the Lord Jesus will not in every case be the people who held leadership in this life. There will be many persons who were sticks of wood that stayed close to God and were quiet before him, and were used in power by him in a place which looks small to men.

Each Christian is to be a rod of God in the place of God for him. We must remember throughout our lives that in God’s sight there are no little people and no little places. Only one thing is important: to be consecrated persons in God’s place for us, at each moment. Those who think of themselves as little people in little places, if committed to Christ and living under his Lordship in the whole of life, may, by God’s grace, change the flow of our generation. And as we get on a bit in our lives, knowing how weak we are, if we look back and see we have been somewhat used of God, then we should be the rod “surprised by joy.”

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[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2003 [originally pub. 1974]).

Never Blink in a Hailstorm – Part 3

Do you tend to be process-oriented or people-oriented in your leadership? David McKenna reminds us in Never Blink in a Hailstorm of the need to remember that people in community are those whom we as leaders are leading. Though processes and methods are important, people are more important.

I continue, in this final blog post on this incisive book, with the “McKenna’s Maxims” on great Christian leadership.

Never Sniff at Symbols

“Human beings make symbols; great leaders master them” (113). Too many leaders are too busy pushing their own change agenda to understand the organizational culture of the organizations they lead and make sure the change they are leading is in continuity with the organization, its culture, and its past. But McKenna wisely reminds us that the outstanding leader always attends carefully to the “cultural symbols” of the organization. This is people-oriented leadership that realizes that people live in community and are best led with attention to that.

Harry Reeder said something similar about church revitalization: Pastors of healthy churches build their leadership on the history and traditions and cultural symbols of the churches they lead. Pastors and leaders in general veer from this model at their own peril. [1]

Never Ride a Pendulum

Like a swinging pendulum, a leader “is under constant pressure to take an extreme position or swing between the poles,” McKenna says (119). How true this is! Yet, he rightly argues, the best leaders strive for balance and consistency in their leadership. This involves building the trust of those you lead. Consistency builds trust—doing exactly what you said you would do and letting people know when you change your mind (122). This is people-oriented leadership. Great Christian leaders are those who have the courage to make tough, principled, convictional decisions but without “losing connection with people” (124).

McKenna goes on to say that “a ‘sense of self’ must be balanced by a ‘sense of others.’” An excellent leader “walks a tightrope between these extremes. The opposites may be clear, but ambiguity rules the ground in the middle” (124). Not everyone wants this balance. “Saboteurs” are “constantly at work trying to push the leader to one extreme or the other.” Effective leaders deal with this pressure by maintaining balance (124).

Never Expect Thanks

This is the toughest advice for most leaders to take. But it’s necessary to master this advice to excel in leadership. “Always say thanks,” McKenna avers, “But never expect it.” This is such sage advice. Thanking others is the leader’s “gift” and “tool” and builds organizational motivation and morale (127-28). The leader needs to reassure all sorts of followers, not just those “high” on the chain of command! Yet, “while leaders have the responsibility and privilege to say ‘Thank you,’ they cannot expect the same in return” (131). But when thanks does come, the godly leader humbly cherishes it.

Dr. McKenna gave a few illustrations of this that hit home with me and touched my heart—alumni who underwent discipline during his presidencies thanking him years later for doing the right thing, even though they were angry with him for years; alumni who years later thanked him for a chapel sermon that changed their lives when he thought it was a bomb. This causes us to pause and remember that “a leader’s trophies are not etched in brass; they are written in flesh” (133). And for the godly leader, our Lord will say, “Well done!” And that is what ultimately matters.

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[1] Harry L. Reeder III, From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008).

Day of Prayer

For seven decades, Welch College has set aside a day each semester for the entire campus community to give itself to prayer. This past Wednesday was our spring semester Day of Prayer, entitled “Praying the Scripture,” and it was a delight to be involved in.

The Day of Prayer events were led by Dr. Barry Raper (program coordinator for Youth and Family Ministry who also serves as senior pastor of Bethel Free Will Baptist Church, a growing congregation in the Nashville area) and Mr. Matthew McAffee (campus pastor and program coordinator for Theological Studies). We started the day at 8:30 a.m. with a song, prayer, and a talk from Dr. Raper on “Praying the Scripture.” This talk set the stage for the rest of the day’s events.

In his talk, Dr. Raper shared about George Müller’s method of praying the Scripture. Dr. Raper studied this in his doctoral program in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He began his talk by asking the students, faculty, and staff if they ever struggle with three common obstacles in prayer:

  • Distraction
  • Mere routine
  • Loss for words

Then he said that “even though there is not an easy way to overcome these obstacles, there is a simple way to pray that can help you enjoy more enriching and effective prayer.” And he shared the method of George Müller, the nineteenth century Englishman who started an orphanage for the purpose of showing believers that God answers prayer. Here are some quotes he shared with us:

Before this time my practice had been, at least ten years previously, as an habitual thing, to give myself to prayer after having dressed in the morning.  Now, I saw that the most important thing was to give myself to the reading of God’s Word, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.

I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning, early in the morning.  The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words of the Lord’s blessing upon His precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.

The result I have found to be almost invariably is this, that after a few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less to prayer.  When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next word or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the Word may lead it, but still continually keeping that food for my own soul which is the object of my meditation.  The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.”  (From Muller’s testimony in A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller [London: J. Nisbet and Co., 1855],  1.3, May 7).

Then Dr. Raper explained that “Müller’s testimony is backed up by different prayers recorded in the Bible—examples of people of faith receiving the Word of God and turning it back to God in prayer.”

For the remainder of the Day of Prayer, the Welch College community put into practice what Dr. Raper had described. From 9:20 to 9:50, everyone engaged in private prayer time, praying through a psalm or New Testament passage. Then we reassembled and watched two videos on prayer needs, one from the Nashville Rescue Mission and the other from the Voice of the Martyrs about persecution of Christians in Nigeria.

Then, from 10:30 to noon, Dr. Raper and Mr. McAffee led a concert of prayer. In the concert of prayer the A.C.T.S. formula was used, with prayers of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication punctuated with Scripture readings and congregational songs that corresponded to each component, as well as small-group times of sharing and prayer. At one point in the concert, different students were asked to share spontaneously: “I praise God because. . . .”

I have heard so many students, faculty, and staff comment on how edifying and enriching this semester’s Day of Prayer was, and I agree. I thank God that we have one day each semester at Welch College that is set aside for prayer and for emphasizing the importance of prayer and its vital place in the Christian life. Please pray for Welch College that it will continue to be, as it always has been, a place of prayer.

Fred Sanders’s “Wesley on the Christian Life”

If you are interested in the Arminian-Calvinist debate or the theology of John Wesley, you may be interested in a brief piece I wrote recently for the Gospel Coalition. In the essay, I give reflections on a recent book by the Wesleyan-Arminian scholar Fred Sanders, Wesley on the Christian Life.

Sanders is on the faculty at Biola University, and the book is a part of Crossway’s excellent series Theologians on the Christian Life. The essay can be found here.

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