MTC Reflections – 9/29/15

I’m part of the second year cohort in the Missional Training Center, a paradigm-shifting experiment in theological education that will–God willing–result in me having a Master’s Degree a few years from now. Here are some reflections from last week.

Interpreting the Prophets — Mike Goheen

This week we continued to explore the Old Testament prophets. Our class time was valuable and contained a number of helpful things, but one stood out above the others. Mike shared a diagram that helps make sense of what it looks like to live in covenant with God.

covenant perspective

1. God speaks his word to his people. This word contains promises, commands, and warnings. All of these express God’s heart, will, and character. And all are important for God’s people to hear.

2. God’s people have to choose whether to trust and obey God. Upon hearing the word of God, Israel had a choice. Would they trust God (leaning into his promises) and obey him (heeding his commands and warnings) or would they distrust God and disobey him?

3. God’s people experience either the blessing or cursing that accompanies their choice. If God’s people trust and obey, they will experience life, prosperity, and blessing. If they distrust and disobey, they will experience death, destruction, and curse.

Simple and Powerful

This doesn’t seem like rocket science to anybody who has studied the Bible for a meaningful period of time. Yet this diagram was immensely helpful for me. I shared it with our pastors a few days later and they also were helped by it. Here’s why I found it so valuable:

1. It reminds me that God speaks to his people with a multi-faceted approach. Sometimes gospel-centered people talk as though God only gives promises. But he also gives commands and warnings. These commands and warnings are not heeded in order to achieve relationship with God — we are already his covenant people by grace. Rather, these commands and warnings are good words that our Heavenly Father gives us in order to guide us into blessing and protect us from harm.

2. It links faith and obedience. When we hear God’s word, we will trust and obey or distrust and disobey. Either way, our trust and our obedience are linked. This strikes me as remarkably biblical. If we trust God, we obey him. To think that we can trust God while walking in disobedience is folly (1 John 1:6). While I rejoice that justification by faith alone has been so strongly recovered in what’s known as the gospel-centered movement, I often wonder if we under-emphasize how obedience must flow from genuine faith. One of the best articles I’ve read on how these are linked is “Pleasing God by Our Obedience: A Neglected New Testament Teaching” by Dr. Wayne Grudem.

3. It’s simple and easy to share. As a pastor, I’m continually looking for simple, effective ways to communicate with people. The best tools are sticky. This diagram is. I can imagine myself in a counseling or discipleship setting pulling out a sheet of paper and drawing this picture. I trust that many people will be helped.

I don’t know what God has for you or me today — but I know he wants us to hear his word and respond with trust and obedience. It will surely lead to blessing and life.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

 

MTC Reflections – 9/24/15

I’m part of the second year cohort in the Missional Training Center, a paradigm-shifting experiment in theological education that will–God willing–result in me having a Master’s Degree a few years from now. Here are some reflections from last week.

MTC

The Prophets — Heath Thomas

Last week’s classes were taught by Heath Thomas, visiting professor from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. We focused on the Prophets, and it was outstanding. I came away with a four key things I want to remember.

1. A prophet is a spokesperson for God, regardless of class or gender. The main job of a prophet is to speak “the word of the Lord.” This is what they are constrained to speak, as anything else could result in a heap of trouble (Deut 13:1-5). What is beautiful, however, is that God did not only speak through one type of prophet. There was significant diversity among the backgrounds of the people God spoke through.

2. God’s word was and is present in both Evernote Snapshot 20150915 072833the speaking of the prophet and the composition of the book. Many of the prophecies we have recorded in Scripture were spoken (preached) beforehand and then compiled into a book. While that may seem like our version of podcasting or transcribing, they key difference is that the prophecies were not necessarily compiled in the order they were spoken. Often the prophet or editors arranged material in thematic or other ways. Nonetheless, both the spoken oracles of the prophet and the final composition of the book are the word of the Lord. As Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16).

3. The Prophets show us a God who is both Covenant Lord and Cosmic King. God has authority over his people and over the nations. The Prophets show God in covenant with his people, offering salvation and warning against judgment. At the same time, however, the Prophets show that God is reigning over the nations and over all of creation. He is not simply the God of Israel, but the one true God over all. Micah 4:1-5 provides a beautiful picture of how these relate to one another, showing that the nations are blessed as God’s people are faithful to him.

4. Reading commentaries early in the study process is good. I have often felt bad that I consult commentaries rather early in my study, since you’re typically told to only do that after you’ve already come up with all your conclusions (as a kind of check/balance). A side discussion in class, however, showed me how this typical approach is overly individualistic and disregards the many wise insights that the body of Christ brings to understanding the Scriptures. We are arrogant and overly influenced by Enlightenment thinking if we imagine that we can come to all the best conclusions (mostly) on our own.

 

MTC Reflections – 9/14/15

Last week began my second year in the Missional Training Center, a paradigm-shifting experiment in theological education that will–God willing–result in me having a Master’s Degree a few years from now. Each week we are expected to journal about what we’re learning in class and the readings, and I intend to use my blog as a place to fulfill this assignment.

MTC

As this second year begins, I’m mindful of three significant things:

1. Who you learn with is as important as what you learn.

It was wonderful to be back with some of the dear friends that are part of my cohort. Last year there were two different cohorts, but this year remaining students have combined. It’s a great group of pastors and leaders from all over the state. I can already see how God will use these brothers and sisters to grow me.

I completed almost half of a degree through Reformed Theological Seminary’s Virtual campus and, while I appreciated the flexibility of being able to “attend” lectures and do work on my schedule, I sorely lacked the relationships that make learning so valuable and fun.

Not only are my classmates a tremendous blessing, but I’m deeply thankful for our faculty. In particular, getting to know Mike Goheen and his wife, Marnie, has been incredible. As they spend more time in Phoenix this year, I’m hoping to lean into them even more for wisdom and modeling a life of humility and boldness in the name of Jesus.

2. I don’t mind being a guinea pig. 

Everyone in high-level theological education knows that the current system has many flaws (too expensive, disconnected from the local church, trains academics more than pastors, too much busy work, hard to do while actively engaged in ministry, etc.). It’s one thing to observe these shortcomings and another to critique them. But it’s something totally different to forge a new path.

Forging a new path is exactly what Mike Goheen is doing. Though many significant people are participating and watching this experiment, it’s not a sure thing. Tradition is powerful and hard to change.

It may lead to an accredited degree, and it may not (but I think it will). Either way, I’m excited to be part of something that’s innovative and gutsy–makes for a lot of fun.

3. There’s a difference between the unchanging gospel truth and our theological reflections on it.

We had a great discussion last week about “doing theology.” Mike described it as reflection on the gospel and God’s word in particular contexts to equip the church, for the sake of the nations.

This highlights a few aspects of theology that are easy to forget:

“Reflection on the gospel and God’s word…” – Any time I begin to reflect on the gospel and God’s word, I should be open to correction. The gospel is like a vein of beautiful rock that runs deep below the earth. I can go down to mine it, but as soon as I come to the surface to describe it to somebody else, I need to see my reflections as what they are — imperfect reflections.

“…in particular contexts to equip the church…” – Theology isn’t done in a vacuum. It’s always done in a particular context and driven by contextual concerns. Consider for example how we might consider it essential to teach that the Bible is authoritative. This concern would not have existed 500 years ago, but is crucial today. The truth of the gospel doesn’t change, but the questions we ask as we approach it do.

“…for the sake of the nations” – Our goal in understanding the gospel is to equip the church for the sake of the nations. We never seek theological understanding for its own sake, but that we might be a more faithful people who can be used by God to declare his glory among the nations.

As I approach this year, I want to keep this approach to theology on my mind. I want to be open to learn so that I can effectively equip the church to bless the world.