Author Archives: Larry Perkins Ph.D.

About Larry Perkins Ph.D.

Dr. Larry Perkins is the President of Northwest and Professor of Biblical Studies

Korean Language Programs Provide Opportunity

Canada is one of several countries that welcomes international students. However, for the most part these students must take their education in a second language. Northwest has followed a different approach – we offer our Canadian graduate degree programs in the Korean language. Few institutions in Canada do this.

Several reasons have guided this decision. First, we do not want language barriers to restrict deserving, qualified individuals from achieving their personal, educational goals, and thus fulfilling part of God’s plan for them. Second, stewardship of time and other resources are at stake. If individuals have to devote two years to gain proficiency in the  English-language before they are eligible to be admitted to graduate programs, then most individuals lack the resources to do it. As a result they are denied the opportunity to enhance their leadership capacities. Thirdly, our focus in our programs is on developing global Christian leaders. We believe it is important for them to live cross-culturally in order to receive more than a theoretical appreciation for the demands of such leadership. However, if language competence prevents them from learning cross-culturally, then the educational objectives of the program cannot be achieved.

Our students face significant challenges when they decide to participate in our Korean language programs. Relocating themselves and their families creates many stresses. Finding affordable housing in Metropolitan Vancouver as you know is never easy. Learning the transportation system and arranging for things such as health insurance become additional hurdles. And then finding a community in which they can make new friends and develop social relationships is an entirely different need. Fortunately there are numerous Korean faith communities that demonstrate generous hospitality. Culture-shock is real and sometimes the student (or at times their spouse) struggles to acclimatize themselves to Canadian realities.

Learning the culture of Canadian higher education and how it differs from Korean educational practices requires considerable energy. Shifting from an educational culture that tends to honour what respected teachers say and write, to one in which honouring such teachers gets expressed through critical questioning and discussion, represents a huge learning curve. This affects, for example, the way assignments are researched and written, particularly how data gets incorporated. In the Doctor of Ministry program candidates have to prepare significant, well-researched writing projects to complete their degree. You can imagine how difficult it is for individuals not only to do their research but then present it in ways that conform to the expectations of a very different educational culture. When these students finish, their degrees are well-earned and well-deserved. Please pray for them, as they prepare themselves to lead congregations and Christian organizations around the world.

Discerning a ‘Kairos’ Moment

Paul claims that God always acts at the right time and presents opportunities for Kingdom advancement at crucial moments – “kairos” moments. He talks about “open doors” and the importance of advancing through them.

KDMN Planning Committee

KDMN Planning Committee

At Northwest we believe God is providing us with a “kairos” opportunity to assist key Korean pastoral leaders in Canada, Korea and other parts of the world to develop their capacities as Global Christian Leaders.

On May 1st. Northwest will launch a new Doctor of Ministry program with a focus in Global Christian Leadership for Korean pastoral leaders in our Fellowship, as well as for other Korean Christians throughout the world.

Vancouver is one the primary centres in North America for the Korean diaspora, with over 150 Korean churches, many of which are substantial and growing. When Korean pastors come to Canada, they have great challenges understanding our culture and adapting their leadership to this new reality. This program will develop their capacity to transition cross-culturally.

Many pastoral leaders in Korea lead their congregations to establish mission projects around the world, including Canada. Yet, they have not had opportunity to develop cross-cultural leadership skills or discerned the challenges involved in being global Christian leaders. Significant struggles ensue, despite great passion for the Gospel.

This program will be cross-disciplinary, incorporating the following areas of study:


This new Doctor of Ministry program will enable the students to interact with and be mentored by Christian leaders who have significant global leadership experience, as well as deep commitment to and understanding of the mission of God in this world. Recruitment for the first class has already started.

Dr. Larry Perkins, Northwest Professor of Biblical Studies and President Emeritus, and Dr. Daniel Park, pastor of Global Korean Mission, a Fellowship Baptist Church located in Coquitlam, are co-directing the new program. A petition for accreditation of the program has been submitted to the Association of Theological Schools.

Webinars for Church Board Chairs

Board Matters:

Online Webinars for Church Board Chairs

Where does a church board chair find resources to develop his or her leadership abilities in fulfilling this important role? Dr. Larry Perkins is offering a series of three webinars January – March 2013 that will give you significant help in understanding your role and offering practical wisdom to facilitate your service.

The three webinars will be held on January 31, February 28, and March 28, 2013 from 6:30 – 7:30pm (PST).  Each webinar will address a key aspect of the governance world in which a church board chair serves and leads. You can register for these three seminars (they are a package) by going to, completing the registration and payment.

The focus of these webinars is on the work of the church board chair. The first considers governance within a congregational reality;  the second reviews the constituencies, work domains, and core principles and practices which church board chairs need to understand; and the third investigates the chair’s role as leader of the strategic ministry leadership team within a congregation.

Space is limited to ten participants. The cost for all three webinars is $45. This must be paid to complete registration. You might be advised as board chair to invite your lead pastor to join with you as you participate. There is no additional fee for this.

At  you will find information about Dr. Perkins, many resources to help you as church board chair, and a description of the technical requirements your computer must have in order to participate, using Adobe Connect. You are also required to use a head microphone because the built-in microphones pick up too much background noise.






Inauguration of the Northwest Centre for Biblical and Theological Literacy

Douglas Moo, Ph. D.

Northwest is excited to announce the inauguration of the new Centre for Biblical and Theological Literacy.

The Centre endeavours to enable people to understand and apply scriptural truth (i.e. wisdom) for salvation and shalom individually and collectively in Canadian society. It is an agency of Northwest Baptist Seminary, striving to “give Scripture its voice” within the church, but also within Canadian society. Dr. Larry Perkins, professor of biblical studies and past president of Northwest Baptist Seminary, directs the Centre.

The inauguration was a two-day event held here on the TWU campus and featured Dr. Douglas Moo as the guest speaker. Dr. Moo is the Blanchard Professor of New Testament, Wheaton Graduate School.  He is also the Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV 2011.

Go to the CBTL website for more information and view the videos of the event.

Thursday, November 3

  • 10:00 to 10:45 am – ACTS Chapel Address
  • 12:30 to 1:45 am – ACTS Faculty Reception: (RSVP required)
  • 2:00 to 4:00 pm – Symposium
    Paul’s Universalizing Hermeneutic in Romans : Dr. Douglas Moo
    Respondents:  Dr. Brian Rapske and Dr. Archie Spencer
  • 7:00 to 8:30 pm  –  Public Presentation
    The Bible in English: Translating for the World: Dr. Douglas Moo

Friday, November 4

  • 1:00 to 3:00 pm  –  Symposium
    What I have learned as a Bible Translator : Dr. Douglas Moo
    Respondents: Dr. Mike Walrod and Dr. Larry Perkins

{filelink=5} the event poster.  You can also:

Download a CBTL image file that you can insert into a presentation or bulletin insert (once the file opens in your browser save it to your computer)

Download a CBTL PowerPoint File


Does Love Win or God Win? – A Review of “Love Wins”

Rob Bell. Love Wins. A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. New York: HarperOne, 2011. 202 pages.

Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, raises and seeks to answer some tough questions about God’s intention and desire for all of his human creatures and earthly creation. As his title discloses, Bell proposes that because God desires all human beings to be saved, that this desire must in some way be realized. If it does not happen within history, then in some way it must happen beyond history, otherwise God is not the all-powerful, sovereign being that orthodox theology claims. The result is that theoretically all human beings eventually will participate in God’s restored earth.

On pages 102-111 he describes four perspectives that Christians have held through history about the destiny of unbelievers. Some believe we have one life in which to choose Jesus and if we do not, we spend eternity in hell. Or as Bell says, "God in the end doesn’t get what God wants" (103). But in Bell’s view God "doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever" (101). He speculates about a second perspective in which people who choose evil eventually extinguish the image of God within themselves and "given enough time, some people could eventually move into a new state, one in which they were in essence ‘formerly human’ or ‘posthuman’ or even ‘ex-human’" (105-106). Bell does not give this perspective much attention. And then he mentions a third position that holds there are two destinations, but "insist(s) that there must be some kind of ‘second chance’ for those who don’t believe in Jesus in this lifetime" (106). And lastly, he mentions a view in which "there will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God. As long as it takes, in other words" (106-107). If there is enough time, surely everyone will "turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence" (107).1

Bell then cites biblical texts (e.g. Matthew 19; Acts 3; Colossians 1) which talk about God "renewing all things" or "restoring everything" or "reconciling all things." He follows this with reference to past theologians such as Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Eusebius who affirmed the idea that "love wins." And then he reminds us that Jerome, Basil and Augustine noted that most or many people "believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God" (108). He concludes by asserting that "at the center (sic.) of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God" (109). He insists that "serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions in a number of different ways" (109). And also he asserts that "some [Gospel] stories are better than others" (110), particularly the one which is "everybody enjoys God’s good world" (111). Finally then he says that "whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it….To shun, censor, or ostracize someone for holding this belief is to fail to extend grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied perspectives for hundreds of years now" (111).2

It seems then, from the title of his book and from the perspective he develops, Bell desires to be accepted as "orthodox," even though he believes and proclaims the story that says everybody will end up enjoying God’s good world. His brief comments on the last two chapters of Revelation (112-114) underscore his perspective when he asks "How could someone choose another way with a universe of love and joy and peace right in front of them – all of it theirs if they would simply leave behind the old ways and receive the new life of the new city in the new world?" He affirms that people do make that choice. But then he observes that the gates of the city in the new world are "never shut" and interprets this to mean that "if the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go" (115). "Keeping the gates open" for him seems to be a metaphor for God’s openness to reconciliation. Bell wants to keep the options open, i.e. "leave plenty of room for all kinds of those possibilities" (116). We cannot be dogmatic on these issues according to Bell because "no one has been to and then returned with hard, empirical evidence" (116), although here he may be overlooking the unique situation of Jesus, the only one who has seen the Father, as John says, and can "declare him" (John 1:18) and the only one who has experienced resurrection from the dead.

Similarly with respect to the spiritual destiny of those involved in other religions Bell interprets John 14:6 as Jesus’ declaration that "he, and he alone, is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open, creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe" (155). Apart from his lack of clarity as to what this means and how this spiritual inclusivity works, Bell wants to interpret Jesus and his teaching in some rather unusual ways. While affirming baptism and communion (or eucharist), he says that these rituals are true for us, because they are true for everybody. They unite us, because they unite everybody. These are signs, glimpses, and tastes of what is true for all people in all places at all times – we simply name the mystery present in all the world, the gospel already announced to every creature under heaven (157).

Again, I find Bell’s communication here rather opaque. How are these things true for "all people in all places at all times" if there is no conscious understanding of, acceptance of and participation in the very truth they represent? In what ways has the Gospel been announced to every creature under heaven such that they are now participating in the things expressed by baptism and communion? Sure "people come to Jesus in all sorts of ways" (158), but do they do this without knowing him personally, or without knowing his name (159)?

Bell’s last major chapter is entitled "The Good News is Better Than That." Building his ideas from the Parable of the Two Sons in Luke 15, he excoriates a "goat gospel" which describes God as "a cruel mean, vicious tormentor" (174), comparing him to an abusive parent. According to Bell this Gospel means that the God who consigns sinners to hell becomes "somebody totally different the moment you die" (174). Rather Bell argues for a Gospel that tells us that God in his very essence is love. "God has no desire to inflict pain or agony on anyone" (177). It is our refusal of God’s love "which creates what we call hell" (177). He argues that "Jesus invites us into that relationship, the one at the center (sic) of the universe" (178), which is not the same, according to Bell, as "getting into heaven." So according to Bell "Life has never been about just ‘getting in.’ It’s about thriving in God’s good world" (179). For Bell God’s "forgiveness is unilateral. God isn’t waiting for us to get it together, to clean up, shape up, get up – God has already done it" (189). This is true, but the Gospel also talks about our need for repentance and the appropriation of God’s gift of forgiveness. God has done what only God can do; but as Jesus says, we do need to "repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15). Is it true as Bell says that "everyone is already at the party,.." (190)? Is this what Jesus meant in Luke 15?

In my opinion, Bell’s exegesis of key biblical texts fails to convince, his interpretation of terms (e.g. the word "age") incomplete, and his use of biblical data to support his viewpoint very selective.

First, let’s consider some texts that he interprets in support of his thesis that "love wins site web." Bell builds several of his chapters around the interpretation of stories about Jesus’ interactions with people or parables that he relates. In his second chapter "Here is the New There" Bell focuses upon the question of the rich man in Matthew 19:16 "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" (26). Bell notes that Jesus, only in Matthew’s account, responds by saying "if you want to enter life,3 keep the commandments." He notes that in this interchange important words such as "eternal life," "treasure," "heaven" were used, but they "weren’t used in the ways that many Christians use them" (29). We might say, of course not! Jesus was talking to a Jewish person somewhere in Galilee in the early first century before his death and resurrection. We have to understand these words first in that setting before we discern how the Gospel writer, composing his account of Jesus’ ministry, understood them from within a post-resurrection, Christian framework, while remaining true to the essence of Jesus’ message. This approach does not mean that the Christian framework distorts Jesus’ teaching, but it does mean that we have to negotiate carefully the meaning of Jesus’ language in its pre- and post-resurrection setting. Further, Bell ignores that Jesus’ response to the rich man ultimately is "follow me" (19:21; Mark 10:21; Lk. 18:22). The man’s "treasure in heaven" would be not due only to his obedience to the Ten Commandments, but rather primarily to his acceptance of Jesus as authoritative teacher and his willingness to obey him. The specific things Jesus asks him to do are not the most important point, but rather it is Jesus’ insistence that he recognize who he is and follow him. Jesus has not, as Bell proposes, blown "a perfectly good ‘evangelistic’ opportunity" (29). Jesus in fact is expressing the good news if the rich man will hear it. Following Jesus, the only "Good One", i.e. God himself, is the key to "entering life," the kind of life that lasts eternally.

Another text that Bell refers to several times is the story about the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. He affirms that Jesus taught the concept of hell, agreeing that human evil has to be defined in violent, over-the-top, hyperbolic language (73). He talks about "the surreal nature of the stories [Jesus] tells" (74). Now Bell urges his readers to understand the meaning of this story in terms of "whatever the meaning was for Jesus’ first listeners" (75). In the immediate context Jesus has criticized the Pharisees for justifying themselves before people, but ignoring the reality that God is one who "knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight" (Luke 16:15). According to Bell Jesus was warning the religious leaders about the serious consequences "for ignoring the Lazaruses outside their gates. To reject those Lazaruses was to reject God" (76). Bell concludes that this is a "brilliant, surreal, poignant, subversive loaded story" (76). True, but what does it mean? After several pages of comments Bell concludes that Jesus is affirming "there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next" (79). "There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously" (79).

Undoubtedly, Jesus emphasized the reality of human accountability and divine judgment, particularly in reference to the rejection of him and his mission. There would be a resurrection of one who would return to tell the tale, namely Jesus himself, but even so not all would respond in belief and submission. So behaviour in this life has consequences beyond the grave – this surely is a significant part of Jesus’ message to the religious leaders through this story. Did the rich man regard his human life as ‘hell’? We have no evidence in the story that this was the case. If any character in the story experienced human existence in this way, it was Lazarus, even though he had faith in God. These dimensions of the story are not reflected in Bell’s analysis, but they do contribute to our understanding of the relationship between human behaviour in this age and the nature of our existence in the life to come. The use of the expression "great chasm" (16:26) describes the inability of people in the age to come to move from one destination to another, i.e. from the place of agony and torture in Hades to "the side of Abraham" (16:22). In this story Jesus holds out no hope of changed destiny in the age to come. This perspective clashes with Bell’s more restricted reading that Jesus "talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God’s love" (82). While such people may have considered themselves chosen, in fact their refusal to accept God’s covenant-reforming action represented in Jesus demonstrates that their father is the devil (John 8:44). Strong language but it indicates that even Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ view had no privileged status with God outside of a relationship with Jesus, even if they claimed to have Abraham as their father. In this regard Bell’s claim that "people believing the right or wrong things isn’t his [Jesus’] point" (82) is insufficient to describe Jesus’ concern. The only way such people could be transformed into "generous, loving people through whom God could show the world what God’s love looks like in flesh and blood" (83) is by responding to Jesus himself, not just carrying on in their normal religious practices.

Bell uses Jesus’ words about Sodom and Gomorrah to argue that "there is still hope" for these cities that experienced such devastating divine judgment. Jesus said that "it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you" (84). But is Jesus offering hope for those who died in the judgment described in Genesis 19? Is this what Ezekiel prophesied in Ezekiel 16 when he talked about the restoration of these cities?4 So here again we encounter the broader issues of hermeneutics. In Matthew 10 Jesus condemns the residents of Capernaum for refusing to acknowledge his Messianic status and mission. By rejecting him they are doing something more sinister than the sinful actions of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus used the classic device of irony to indicate that if they thought God’s judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah was justified, as horrific as it was, this is nothing compared to God’s response to their rejection of his Messiah Jesus. Sodom and Gomorrah will experience God’s final judgment, but the people of Capernaum who reject the Messiah will experience it even more severely.

On page 87 Bell lists an impressive number of OT texts that speak of God’s promise to restore Israel. He interprets these to demonstrate that God’s goal is not judgment, but correction and reconciliation. What God does for Israel, he will do for all. Again, however, has Bell got it right? Such promises of restoration may be fulfilled in terms of the opportunity offered to Israel in the Messiah, both in his first and second comings. Paul seems to relate these kinds of promises to God’s actions as a result of the Messiah (Romans 11:25-32) and anticipates opportunity for Israel to respond and be forgiven at some future point before God concludes "this age." We have no warrant from these texts to consider these events happening in the "age to come."

Bell attempts to use Paul’s action of handing a person over to Satan for the purpose of spiritual recovery as another piece of evidence that in the end "love wins." How confident is Paul that when he orders churches to turn "over to Satan for the destruction of the sinful nature" (90, quoting 1 Corinthians 5:5, with reference to 1 Timothy 1:20) that good will result from this? In other words "Paul is convinced, that wrongdoers will become right doers" (91). We do have one case where that result occurs (at least this is how many commentators understand Paul’s reference in 2 Corinthians 2:6-8). However, although Paul may have this intent in mind for all such cases, he cannot predict that in fact this will always be the outcome. If the Alexander of 1 Timothy 1:20 is the same Alexander mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:14, Paul indicates that God will hold him accountable for his opposition to the Gospel. Again the texts do not seem to bear the weight of Bell’s desired exegetical outcome.

In his seventh chapter entitled "The Good News is Better Than That" Bell derives some principles from his interpretation of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:12-32, one of the longest and most developed stories Jesus tells. Bell’s goal in this chapter is to establish a viable story of the Gospel. The point of this story, according to Bell, is that "people get what they don’t deserve" (168). Within this one story he identifies three different stories, one told by each brother and one by the father. The difference between the story the father tells and those recounted by the brothers is "the difference between heaven and hell" (169). Somehow "in this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other" (170). He claims that the older brother is "at the party" but refusing to participate. Because the older son refuses "to trust God’s retelling" of his story, he is experiencing hell (170). Bell concludes that the key message of the father figure in the story is that "we are all going to be fine. Of all of the conceptions of the divine, of all of the language Jesus could put on the lips of the God character in this story he tells, that’s what he has the father say" (172). However, as Bell himself says, the older brother refuses to accept the story his father is telling. We have no sense in the story that he changes his mind and as a result he does not participate in the party, even though it is happening within his father’s house.

How should we respond to such an interpretation of this parable? The insight that three different stories are being recounted in this parable is helpful. The father does function as the God character. But whom do the sons represent? The context of Luke 14-15 involves Jesus’ interactions with Jewish religious leaders, as he responds to their questions and criticisms. In particular Jesus has addressed the question of who will in fact "eat bread in the kingdom" and thus experience "the resurrection of the just." The religious leaders are critical of Jesus’ acceptance of tax-collectors and sinners into his Messianic movement (15:2-3). He tells the parable of the Great Banquet (14:15-24), concluding that "not one of those men invited will taste my banquet" (14:24). He makes it very personal. The nature of discipleship and its personal costs becomes the focus in 14:25-33, with concluding comments about the worthlessness of salt that no longer possesses the properties of salt (14:34-35). "It is thrown away!"

Then in Luke 15 the Pharisees articulate their complaint: "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them" (15:2). Three parables follow, each focusing upon the fierce determination to find a lost coin, sheep and son and the great rejoicing that happens when the lost is found. So these three parables are a critique of the Pharisees’ evaluation of Jesus’ interaction with sinners and tax-collectors. In the parable of the two sons, Jesus compares the Pharisees and their attitude with that of the older son. They in fact become critics of God in criticizing Jesus, whose invitation is the expression of God’s love for lost people. Their refusal to accept Jesus and his mission means that they snub God and will not participate in the great Messianic banquet, despite their sense of self-assured chosen-ness. I do not think Bell builds his exegesis from Luke’s explicit gospel context.

Bell then moves into a more speculative question. He invites his readers to consider whether a Gospel that portrays God as on the one hand loving and inviting and on the other judging and tormenting is the true Gospel. He puts it this way: "Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?" (174). He claims that this kind of Gospel means that "many people, especially Christians…don’t love God" (174). Rather for Bell the Gospel story is that "God has no desire to inflict pain or agony on anyone" (177). It is our refusal of God’s love that "moves us away from it…and that will, by very definition, be an increasingly unloving, hellish reality" (177). Bell seems to be arguing that people create their own hell because of what they believe. The essence of the Gospel is God’s invitation into a relationship, not entrance into heaven. No one needs to be rescued from God because He is the rescuer (182).

While this speculation may be helpful, does it in fact relate to or derive from the story of the father and the two sons that Jesus has told? We noted that the primary issue Jesus addressed was the criticism by the Pharisees of his social interaction with sinners and tax-collectors, actions they deemed inconsistent with someone claiming to be Messiah. In the character of the father Jesus affirms God’s merciful inclusion of sinners and tax-collectors in his new kingdom action, if they repent and seek God by accepting Jesus’ claims. The oldest son, who represents the Jewish religious leaders, also receives the same invitation based upon the same terms. However, if they refuse the father’s invitation, it is unclear what their future situation will be, because Jesus did not address that in this parable, despite Bell’s speculation.

What generally did Jesus teach about those who refuse to accept God’s will in Jesus? The earlier story in Luke 14 about the person who hosts a banquet focuses upon the theme of invitation and rejection. Jesus stated clearly that "none of those men invited shall taste my banquet" (14:26). So we have an idea about the destiny of the older son, if he persists in rejecting the overtures of his father – he will have no place in the banquet. Now whether we hold the father responsible for this or the older son is perhaps a moot point. The father has set the rules for participating in the party and the older son has refused to accept them. God is rescuer, but he will not change the rules under which rescue is available. The older son could be rescued, but he refuses the invitation.

Secondly, Bell’s analysis of the meaning of specific terms leaves several questions unanswered. Bell argues that this term zōē aiōnios (translated as "eternal life" in the NIV) does not mean "eternal" in the sense of forever, but rather "life in the age to come" in contrast to the current age of space-time history. In Matthew 19 Jesus did not define what life in the age to come would be like or exactly where it would be. Bell argues that the normal Jewish perception of life in the age to come is a continuation of life as it is on the earth, but experienced under God’s righteous rule. This may be, but we read in some Second Temple Jewish documents other visions of what life in the age to come would entail. Some consider the messianic age to be an interim phase between this age and the age to come. Others portray the messianic age to be identified with the age to come. Although the means by which "this age" is destroyed and the transformation of the earth for the "age to come" occurs is not always discussed, a common expectation in Judaism was that it would be annihilation by fire.5 In other words there were various eschatological beliefs in Judaism during Jesus’ day. We cannot tell just from the phrase zōē aiōnios exactly what ideas the rich man held about this future period. Jesus goes on to add some clarification in the passage and elsewhere. We should not assume that Jesus merely adopted Jewish terminology or beliefs without modifying them.  Jesus, for example, does not affirm explicitly where this future life will occur. Bell says that Jewish people in the first century "did not talk about a future life somewhere else, because they anticipated a coming day when the world would be restored, renewed, and redeemed and there would be peace on earth" (40).

Bell insists that the rich man in Matthew 16 or Mark 10 "isn’t asking about how to go to heaven when he dies. This wasn’t a concern for the man or Jesus" (30).  Rather, he wants to be involved in God’s new day, the age to come. Now Bell is correct that the term "heaven" is not used for instance in Mark 10:19. However, as you read through Jesus’ comments and interactions with his disciples following his encounter with the rich man and his failure to respond positively, the disciples seem to understand the man’s concern in precisely those terms. They ask Jesus "who then can be saved" (Mark 10:25) if the rich can’t? Jesus assures them that in the "renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne….everyone who has left houses…for my sake…will inherit eternal life6" (vs.28-30). Note that Jesus used the same phrase as the rich man and refers by this to a future time when the Son of Man is victorious, and seems to understand this as "salvation." While this may not exactly be equivalent to our term heaven, it certainly points to a context very different from this current life and a context which usually is identified with the second coming of Jesus, after which all things are renewed.

Further there is the expression "unto the ages of the ages" used in the New Testament in 1 Peter 4:11 (cf. 1 Peter 5:11; 1 Timothy 1:17; Ephesians 3:21; perhaps Romans 16:27; Hebrews 13:21). Usually this expression occurs as a descriptor of God’s glory or power, emphasizing that these attributes are his possession "unto the ages of the ages." It would seem that this language, building upon the eternality of God’s existence, is expressing clearly the concept of eternity. It is not true that a concept of continuous existence, whether one calls this "eternity" or characterizes it as "eternal", is absent from the New Testament. Jesus promised in Matthew 25:31-46 that his followers will "inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world" (v.34) and this later is characterized as going away "into life eternal" (eis zōēn aiōnion). This is set in the context of end of the world, divine judgment. The use of the phrase "eternal life" in Matthew 25:46 should be understood in a way that is consistent with its occurrence in Matthew 18:16. If Jesus was at all consistent in his use of language, then "eternal life" in Matthew 18:16 cannot refer merely to transformed life in this era.

One strategy that Bell uses to avoid such conclusions is to argue that "Jesus blurs the lines, inviting the rich man, and us, into the merging of heaven and earth, the future and present, here and now" (59). However, as I have sought to argue, Jesus did not do this, at least with respect to the expression zōē aiōnios.

So what was this "life" that Jesus promised this man if he responded and followed him? Bell is correct is saying that Jesus offered the man the possibility of "possessing" eternal life now and beginning to enjoy its blessings to some degree in this age, but fully in the age to come. However, even in John’s Gospel Jesus was not teaching a fully realized eschatology. One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to experience life with God in the present. However, this cannot compare with what believers will yet experience, as Paul articulates in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.

Another phrase that Bell comments upon occurs in Matthew 25:46, usually translated as "eternal punishment" or "punishment without ending" (eis kolasin aiōnion) (91-92). Building upon his treatment of the term aiōnion Bell suggests that this refers to "a period of pruning" or "a time of trimming," but does not stipulate something that is without end. However, if he argues this sense for its use in v.46, then he must also argue for a similar sense in v.41 where Jesus defines the destiny of "those on the left" of the Messiah’s throne as "the eternal fire (eis to pur to aiōnion) prepared for the devil and his angels." Is this fire similarly only for a period of time? Some consider Jesus’ comments here to reflect the sentiments in Daniel 12:2-3 (cf. John 5:29).

Bell asks whose version of the story, i.e. Gospel, we will believe and share, and he has asked the right question. However, his version of the Gospel story, I believe, unfortunately is deficient. I would rather seek to grasp and believe the whole of Jesus’ teaching and ground my life in that Gospel.

At the end of the day Bell wants to keep the word ‘hell’ but primarily to refer "to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way" (93). It is an eschatologically realized hell, not one that threatens a person with a destiny in the age to come that is truly horrific and to be avoided at all costs because of sinful rejection of Jesus in this earthly, human context.

The third issue where Bell’s perspective is deficient, in my view, occurs in his selective use of biblical data to support his position. He admits that he has not written a biblical or systematic theological treatment of these issues. However, to raise so many serious and challenging questions, but then not to attempt seriously to respond to them using the whole of the biblical resources available borders on the irresponsible. For example, I do not believe I once read about the concept of God’s righteousness, i.e. his faithful adherence to his covenant arrangements, in his book. Yet, as we know from key Old Testament texts such as Exodus 34:7-7, God in these covenant arrangements defines his response to those who are obedient adherents and those who act wickedly. The guilty he will not hold guiltless. Jesus in his teaching constantly warns Jews that refusal to accept him and his teaching will bring divine judgment, not only in this age but also in the age to come. What did Jesus mean when he said that "the Son of Man would be ashamed" of those who in this age are ashamed of him, "whenever he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). Shame surely carries connotations of judgment and lack of acceptance. In John’s Gospel (3:18) the writer affirms that "the person who has not put faith in the name of the only begotten Son of God" already (ēdē) stands condemned or judged. Jesus’ words will be used to judge those who set aside his teachings (John 12:47-50), because his words are zōē aiōnios (eternal life). Jesus provides no suggestion that the judgment that will come will be limited or overturned in the age to come.

Bell on page 107 describes a church tradition that "God will ultimately restore everything and everybody" and he used texts such as Matthew 19:28 ("the renewal of all things"), Acts 3:21 ("the time for the restoring of all things") and Colossians 1:20 ("reconcile all things to himself") to support this contention. Bell then concludes that "restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t. Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t" (108). Those are dogmatic assertions. But are they true and is this the conclusion that Jesus, Peter and Paul wanted Christian disciples to reach based upon these expressions? For example, Jesus achieved glory by triumphing over Satan through the cross and resurrection, preparing for his ultimate judgment (Revelation 19-20). Throughout the Old Testament God’s glory emerges through the destruction of his enemies (cf. Exodus 15). While we may struggle to accept that idea today, it is embedded deeply in Scripture. When human beings identify themselves with Satan’s kingdom, they also become the focus of God’s powerful judgment. As Peter notes (1 Peter 3:10-11; 5:5-7) God resists the proud and his face is against those who do evil. He judges the living and the dead. Restoration and reconciliation are God’s desire, but the New Testament is consistent in its message that human participation in these divine movements are dependent upon our repentance of sin and acceptance of Jesus as Son of God and Saviour.

In the end "God wins," but God is not only characterized as love, but as truth, justice, and light. One of his names is "Jealous" and he will not tolerate sinful opposition. God’s desire is that all of humanity might be rescued, but this desire does not negate his commitment to justice, as Paul indicates clearly in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8. Unless Bell excises such texts from the canon, we have to consider that God’s justice is not contrary to his love, as if he is a schizophrenic deity. Rather the perfection of God enables him to integrate his love and justice with complete integrity. Although Bell understands sin to be a terrible thing, in the end I do not think he is willing to perceive sin as God perceives it and thus does not consider that a human, sinful life deserves eternal punishment according to God’s standard of justice. Further the logic of his preferred position on these matters requires him to also abandon the concept of security in God’s promises. If evil people at some point in the age to come may be wooed by the wonder of God’s love into the heavenly city, then it must also be possible for those present in the heavenly city also to rebel against that love and find themselves in hell, just as Satan rebelled and was cast out of heaven. In the end then it is God who does win, but he wins in ways totally consistent with his justice, truth, love, and power.

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.
Professor in Biblical Studies
Northwest Baptist Seminary
April 19, 2011

See also Dr. Perkins’ article in Internet Moments on Rob Bell’s use of the NT Greek word "kolasis, kolazein" – Punishment.

  • 1Bell does not consider the question of whether evil spirits and even Satan himself might eventually be rehabilitated.
  • 2Concepts such as purgatory, saying mass for the dead, etc. are some of the ways that these ideas gain expression in some segments of contemporary Christianity.
  • 3It is interesting that Bell on pages 180-182 will argue that the Gospel is not about entering, but participating, seeming to forget what Jesus has said here about “entering life.”
  • 4In the case of Ezekiel’s prophecy (16:53-58) the point seems to be the humiliation of Jerusalem for its sinful condition. Yahweh “restores the fortunes of Sodom…and the fortunes of Samaria” (53) “in order that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done" (54). There is no hint that this restoration of Sodom or Samaria will occur in the age to come or represents their positive response to God’s kindness.
  • 5E. Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Volume II, revised and edited by  G. Vermes, F. Millar and M. Black (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 1979), 536-539.
  • 6Mark’s Gospel says “in the coming age eternal life.”

Theologies of Leadership – are they new forms of clericalism?

During the Reformation the assumed, privileged position of clergy came under serious challenge. More radical elements claimed to have eliminated the need for any specific clergy group within their formulation of church. In the early part of the 20th century we heard renewed calls for a “theology of the laity,” which continues to have significant impact in Protestant and Catholic circles. Slogans such as “every member a minister” became rallying cries that promoted further reformation so that “lay-people” in the church might enjoy their full position as part of Christ’s body. Within Evangelical circles a sense of congratulation emerged in the progress made to empower the laity.

In the last twenty-five years the issue of leadership, at least within North American Evangelical churches, has also become dominant. Seminaries seek to develop effective “ministry leaders.” The cry is for “visionary leaders” who can propel congregations to new heights of missional endeavor. Pastors’ shelves or computer memory drives are chock-full of books, papers, and digitized essays, videos, blogs and reports to help them become the leaders they were called to be. In many ways I applaud this focus.

But accompanying this engagement with the essence, competence, and theology of leadership is a serious question – if only some within the church are leaders, what does this say about the rest of us? Is this emphasis upon leadership in ministry and the general belief that only a few are called to exercise such leadership perpetuating clericalism, but under a new guise? Did Jesus intend only a few in his Kingdom to be leaders or was one of his radical changes the opportunity and requirement for every disciple to be both leader and follower, rather than a few being leaders and the rest followers? In my reading about ministry leadership and interactions with denominational, seminary and church leaders, I sense that the prevailing perspective is the first and not the second, i.e. only a few disciples are called to be leaders. It is their vision that dominates, after all they are the visionary leaders!  The incorporation of CEO models of pastoral leadership, particularly in larger churches, as important and useful as this may be, nevertheless also contributes to this perspective.  We all “know” that successful entrepreneurs and business leaders are a select group. This thinking spills over into the way average Christians tend to view the local church organization. Spiritual leaders are few. Only some are called to be spiritual leaders or ministers.

The New Testament offers a different understanding. Pentecost demonstrated that the presence of God’s Spirit among his people enabled each one to evangelize, to proclaim the Good News, and make disciples. Paul’s use of the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12 demonstrates that every believer, gifted and empowered by the Spirit, contributes to the well-being of the whole body. Similarly his statement in Ephesians  4:12-16 puts emphasis upon the work of restoring “the holy ones” to do the work of ministry so that “the whole body generates the growth of the whole body” (v.16) as they live connected with Jesus Christ. The concept of mutual submission expressed in Ephesians 5:21 leans in the same direction. And then there is Peter’s concept of the new temple constructed from living stones and each one together forms a priestly community, “a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing to God through Jesus Messiah” (2:5). Further he asserts that God gifts believers to speak and serve to his glory. Other elements could be referenced, but these may suffice to indicate a general perspective.

These same texts, however, indicate that God provisions his people with gifts so that the whole body can be effective in its service. Some of these gifts include people who can be entrusted with responsibilities to care for, teach, and guide the local expression of the faith community. However, as Jesus himself stated, such roles are essentially serving or “slaving” roles (Mark 10:43-45). Kingdom greatness is centred in humility and available to every believer (Matthew 18:1-8). Parenting serves as a primary metaphor for how “leadership” functions in a local church.

One of the significant benefits that the Theology of Work movement can bring to the understanding of the church today is a renewed sense that every member of the body is indeed called in Christ to exercise Kingdom leadership in their place, i.e. to be a Kingdom agent. This may be through the role of parent, spouse, employee, employer, student, etc.  However, we have to recapture the Kingdom perspective that leadership is not about power, but rather is about serving and thereby demonstrating God’s proper kingship in family, vocation, church, and society. Every believer exercises influence in his or her sphere of relationships towards the accomplishment of God’s will on earth. This is Kingdom leadership – something that the Holy Spirit empowers every believer to accomplish. People who fill functional roles of organizational leadership within a congregation do important spiritual work, but they have to remember that their work serves to enable all believers in the body to be the Kingdom leaders God has called them in Christ and empowered them by his Spirit to be.

In His Service

In a few days I will be completing my responsibilities as Northwest’s President. Two years ago as I began to plan for this transition, it seemed a long way ahead. Now it is here and God’s grace has enriched the experience. Thank you for the good wishes you have shared recently and for your prayerful support of Northwest’s vision and ministry during my tenure. Whatever God has accomplished through Northwest in these years, your stewardship has been part of it.

In these past few months God has given constant assurance that Northwest’s future is rich with promise. Just this week we received news of a third grant to support the “Theology of Work and Marketplace Ministry” initiatives that we have pursued these past two years. Earlier this Fall we finally were able to implement online, graduate level cross-cultural leadership training for FEBInternational ministry leaders around the world. 10-12 twelve of these leaders are engaged in the first course under the direction of Mark Naylor. And then major plans are being developed for the initiation of a church-based, ministry leadership training process in Fall 2011. This will be a significant development, requiring new financial and educational resources.

Dr. Spencer is leading our preparations for our fourth conference on Baptist Identify and Theology, which we are now calling “ReSourcing the Church Conference”. It will be offered February 25-26, 2011. Dr. Jim Belcher, author of Deep Church. A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, will be our keynote speaker. As well, our next conference supporting Children’s Ministry will be offered in November 2011.

Dr. Kent Anderson, Northwest’s new president, begins his new role January 1 and already is engaging his responsibilities, excited about the new opportunities God is opening for Northwest’s ministry. Please be in prayer for him as 2011 will make very heavy demands upon his energies.

May God’s blessing rest upon you as you continue to serve Him with expectancy and deep gratitude.


Larry Perkins, Ph.D.


Alpha and Omega – How well does a pastor need to know the Bible?

The Bible comes to us in three languages — Hebrew, Aramaic and Hellenistic Greek. Yet,  most people, including pastoral leaders, explore the scriptures through translation. Traditionally people in the congregation have considered the pastor as equipped to investigate thoroughly the biblical message and communicate it truthfully and persuasively. The pastor opens windows into the text to let people discern its meaning, sometimes with painful starkness and impact. But what competence does a pastor need in order to do that with excellence?

Historically Bible colleges and seminaries have included the study of Greek and sometimes Hebrew within programs that equip people for pastoral leadership. Within Northwest we have a strong tradition of teaching the biblical languages. I think this is rooted in our strong commitment to the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of Scripture. What eventually happens if pastoral leaders no longer have competence to interact directly with the Greek and Hebrew Bible?

The argument can be made that good preaching does not depend upon skill in reading the Greek or Hebrew Bibles, and this is true. However, the study of the Greek and Hebrew portions of the Bible is not so much concerned with acquiring language skills, as it is with the more significant question of discerning the Spirit’s voice in scripture. The preaching might be persuasive, but is the message true? When a person engages the Greek Bible, for example, he or she is not just encountering words, but must wrestle with an entirely different way of thinking and expression. The cultural distance between the 21st Century preacher and the biblical text must be admitted and addressed.  The larger questions of meaning, the intent of the human author, and the means chosen to share his ideas become more immediate. But when a person is presenting the eternal words of scripture as God’s authoritative Word, can he or she be content to depend only on the pre-digested message expressed in a translation, as good as it may be. Commentaries help, but to grasp their arguments often requires some language and exegetical competence.

Trends in pastoral training come and go. I have seen a number in my 32 years of seminary experience. Whether it was counselling, church growth, or more latterly leadership development, each pushes its way into the pastoral curriculum, bartering for space with the existing subjects. Pressure is on to shorten the time required for developing pastoral leaders and this requires academic leaders to determine carefully what subjects deserve space in a limited curriculum. And then there is student pressure to ease the requirements or to focus the curriculum on more applied subjects, things that have immediate pay-off. Given the costs of pastoral education and the time restraints that emerging leaders frequently experience, perhaps the space in the curriculum devoted to acquiring capacity to work directly with the Greek and Hebrew Bible might be put to better use?

Can the study of Greek or Hebrew biblical interpretation survive in such a context? If it doesn’t, what does it mean for the proclamation of the Gospel and the discipling of God’s people in the next fifty years? If pastors of the future lack the competence to engage the Scriptures in their Greek and Hebrew forms, will the churches be stronger for it? I doubt it. Providing this kind of education and competence development for new pastoral leaders requires specific investments in people and programs. The immediate returns are not dramatic, but the long term implications for the health of the church will be critical.  These same kinds of arguments compel us also to invest significantly in developing ministry leaders with deep, theological competence.

This article has also been published in the October issue of Northwest News.

Decade of Service

In the sixty-five years following Northwest’s re-establishment after World War II, Northwest has had six presidents.  This is a remarkable story of committed, stable leadership. A decade of service in this role is about the average. I believe it is time for a new leader who can bring fresh vision and vitality to Northwest’s mission.

Almost a decade has passed since the Board of Northwest invited me to serve first as interim president (January 2000) and then to fill the role of president. Some of you know that on July 31, 2011 I will be completing my involvement with Northwest as President. The next few months will be busy, working with the successor the Board will be appointing.

The Board has been working on a succession plan for about a year and the Search Committee will be bringing a recommendation to the Board’s October 2010 meeting. Should the Board accept the recommendation, then the new president will begin serving January 1, 2011 losartan potassium.  The Board has graciously granted me a sabbatical that will run from January to July 2011. I believe the Board has this process well in hand and the transition of leadership will proceed well. As opportunity allows, I hope to continue contributing to Northwest in a part-time teaching role for the next few years.

So this Fall semester will be a time of transition. I would ask that you pray specifically:

1. that the Board will know the mind of God in their decision in October;

2. that I will be able to finish well, leaving Northwest in a strong position;

3. that Northwest faculty and staff will work through the transition well;

4. that our students and alumni will view the transition process as a model of Christian leadership;

5. that our financial donors will continue to support the mission of Northwest and the new President;

6. that Northwest’s mission will be carried forward even more effectively because of this change.

Over the past year my prayer has been that God would enable me to finish well. You know too many Christian leaders whose leadership roles have ended in failure. So I do covet your prayers in these next months and look forward to God’s special grace and blessing upon the Northwest family in this time of transition.

In particular it is important that your investment in Northwest remain strong. A leader is important in an institution, but the institution is far bigger and more significant than any one person. I believe this is true of Northwest and the critical nature of its leadership development role in the Kingdom.

2010- 06-12 Board Summary

The June meeting of the Northwest board marks the beginning of a new year of ministry by these volunteer leaders on behalf of our Seminary and our churches. We extend our thanks to Colin McKenzie for his excellent service during these past three years. Robert Murdock and Dwight Geiger (FEBPacific President’s representative) are initiating their work with our board. We look forward to their contribution.

Part of the work during this first meeting relates to the appointment of board members to specific responsibilities. Larry Nelson continues as chair and Dennis Wasyliw as vice-chair, as well as secretary.

Two major discussions occupied the board’s attention. The board is aware of the discussions occurring in our Fellowship regarding the relationship between the National office and the Regions. Without presupposing the outcome of these discussions, the board did affirm their desire for Northwest to take a more active role in contributing to ministry leadership development nationally. This is well within the scope of our mission and ends policy.

The second discussion concerned our preferred future for the ACTS Consortium and our involvement with it. The board acknowledged the value of this collaborative relationship. However, it also is aware of discussions occurring among the seminary members and Trinity Western University regarding various issues whose resolution probably will re-shape the nature of our collaboration. The board appointed an adhoc committee to work with the President during the next four months and recommend to the October meeting of the board Northwest’s preferred direction for ACTS. One of the key questions to be answered is how ACTS needs to be configured so that Northwest can continue to accomplish its mission well through its involvement in  ACTS. Such discussions are necessary from time to time because theological education, our churches, our families of churches, and our culture constantly are changing.

The board continues to move forward in its process for selecting and appointing a new president for Northwest in 2011.

The board reviewed the Northwest financial picture and were thankful for its good situation. The President also reported on various new leadership training initiatives that were in the works.

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.


Ministry Leaders Entering the Harvest

Summer is soon upon us and I wanted to drop a note to keep you connected with Northwest. Graduation occurred six weeks ago and about 80 men and women received diplomas and degrees through the ministry of Northwest and its partners in the Associated Canadian Theological Schools. Praise God for these new ministry leaders entering “the harvest.”

Jeff Kuhn, Grace Baptist, Hope, Apr 2010

While I am so thankful for the potential each graduate holds for Kingdom advancement, I also realize it’s not enough! No matter how many people we train (and it’s over 3,000 now), it’s never enough! Christ’s church grows, its leaders mature, and new opportunities constantly emerge. The appetite for effective leaders in the Kingdom is insatiable. As Jesus declared, “the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.” 80 is few, 800 is few, 8,000 is few. Until Jesus returns, no matter how many ministry leaders we prepare for the harvest, it is too few. God’s plans for harvest always outstrip our ability to fill the need.

On one level this constant demand for new labourers could make one depressed. We never achieve our quota! God always wants more. But from another perspective, this constant requirement for more labourers indicates the Kingdom’s advancement and aggressive engagement with Satan’s domain. What is more amazing is that God chooses to use human agents in the harvest. Jesus is winning. The ranks of people in his Kingdom are swelling. The harvest is very plentiful.

Jesus puts the equipping of labourers at the very forefront of Kingdom priorities. Sometimes people think that seminary work is not “frontline” work in the Kingdom. I beg to differ. Perhaps the most challenging Kingdom work being done today is equipping effective ministry leaders. This is absolutely frontline stuff. The spiritual warfare that people experience in the context of their ministry preparation can be truly fearsome. When God is at work in people’s lives through the Seminary, Satan is never happy.

If you want to give Satan a bad day, then equip a Kingdom leader! If you want to put Satan’s agenda in total disarray, then invest in producing effective ministry leaders! It’s demanding work and the equipping of a ministry leader never really ends — it just gets more focused as the Spirit refines His work.

Thank you for your continued prayers and financial help. As we begin these summer months, please remember to pray and as God’s provides, make an investment in leadership development. Judy and I will be investing in leader development in Indonesia at the end of June, teaching the book of Romans to pastoral leaders. I have also initiated a new website ( to provide resources for church board chairs.

May God bless you wonderfully in this summer season.

Blessings in “the harvest,”

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.


Working with Bias — Decision-making In Church Board Meetings

In the midst of every important decision a church board engages lurks a myriad of biases that batter the process like turbulent winds. Every board member brings these biases into the room, including the chair and lead pastor. Biases are human realities, but some can be beneficial, while others have potential for serious harm. How then does a church board chair help the board control or balance out its biases or assumptions? Read the blog here and discover some ways a board chair can help a board work with its biases.

Equip Today – Impact Tomorrow

What a headline – “Canadian Seminary Enrolments drop by 15 – 20% in five years!” It’s true. In 2005 the total reported enrolment in Canadian Protestant Seminaries was 5751, but in 2009 this has decreased to 4860. The numbers have stabilized in the last year or two.

What does this mean? In the next few years the leadership deficit in our churches will become more serious. Our aging population means that more leaders will be retiring, but there will be fewer younger leaders to replace them. This can only mean that the competition among churches to locate exceptional ministry leaders will increase.

What a challenge!

But the story in Northwest is different. A modest surge in growth is occurring. In Spring 2009 we enrolled 44 students; in Spring 2010 64 students enrolled. We believe this change is due to the innovative work our Northwest team is doing, in collaboration with our Fellowship leadership, to make ministry training more affordable, more accessible, and more responsive to real leadership needs.

Please pray with us for God’s wisdom as we collaborate with our Fellowship leadership and selected lead pastors to consider developing a second path for training pastors. While the outlines of such a process are not yet clear, we recognize the need to engage and involve lead pastors more deeply, consistently and intentionally in identifying and developing candidates being called by God to pastoral ministry. This would parallel the successful work we have done in collaboration with your youth pastors to implement an alternative way to equip new youth pastors. This year we will be graduating another three youth pastors through this system. We believe the same can be done for other kinds of pastoral leaders.

An important forum discussing this second path will be held with selected lead pastors just prior to our April Fellowship Convention.

Thank you for your encouragement, prayers and support in these recent months. Change continues to be our primary challenge. Please pray that God will give us wisdom and Spirit-based courage to know how best to lead Northwest in such times.


Larry Perkins, Ph.D.


2010-03-16 Board Summary

The Northwest Baptist Seminary Board of Governors met Friday evening and Saturday, March 12 -13, 2010. On Friday, Northwest hosted its third “State of the Seminary” evening for the Board, faculty and staff with spouses, as well as special guests. The theme for the evening was “Equip Today — Impact Tomorrow.”  We were encouraged by increased enrolment, effective alumni, good leadership and sound fiscal management. Yet, we also recognize that much work remains if our mission and vision is to be fulfilled. I believe the conclusion of this year’s work marks 70 years of ministry for Northwest.

Several significant issues were the focus of the Board’s attention. They continue their work in searching for and selecting a new President. Dr. Perkins’ term ends July 31, 2011. The Joint-Audit Committee recommended to the Board that the Auditor’s report be approved, which the Board did. It was a clean audit, showing a surplus in operations for 2009. This represents the fifth year of operations with a balanced budget. Northwest’s investments have recovered fully from the 2008 financial downturn.  The Board reappointed Loewen Kruse as auditors for 2010.  As well the Board approved Northwest’s 2010 budget.

The Board acknowledged the receipt of funds from an estate gift and authorized the President to spend some of those funds to improve Northwest’s educational technology and develop a more effective marketing and grant-writing capacity.

In order to ensure stable academic leadership during the period of presidential transition, the Board appointed Dr. Kent Anderson to another two year term as Northwest’s Dean (May 1, 2010 to April 30, 2012).

The President in his reports to the Board during the past year has highlighted the startling decrease in enrolment among Canadian Seminaries over the last five years. Remarkably, due to our efforts in the Fellowship to collaborate and the initiatives that Northwest has taken to respond to the leadership challenges within our Fellowship, Northwest’s enrolment has shown an increase for this same period. This past year 41 Fellowship people benefited from the Seminary’s formal leadership development programs and many more received assistance through workshops and other informal learning experiences. The President has also kept the Board informed about the challenges that the Associated Canadian Theological Schools, the Consortium, is facing. The Board authorized its Governance committee to recommend to the next Board meeting a process for thinking creatively regarding Northwest’s future.  Our current strategic plan is serving us well, but we need to be governing into the future.

The Board reviewed several policies, including the Ends Policy and made minor changes.

The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, June 12, 2010. Seminary graduation will take place on Sunday, April 25 at Northview Community Church, Abbotsford (the service starts at 4:30pm). Northwest has thirteen graduates and ACTS in total will be graduating around eighty students.  We congratulate especially several Fellowship people in their graduation:  Estera Boldut (Master of Counseling), Andrew Eby (Master of Arts in Christian Studies), Jeffrey Kuhn (Master of Divinity), Jonathan Michael (Master of Arts in Christian Studies), Jeff Thomas (Master of Theological Studies).

If you have questions about any of these matters, please connect with me at [email protected]


Larry Perkins, Ph.D.


God’s Provision

God’s done it again – totally exceeded my expectations! I can affirm Paul’s claim in Philippians 4:19 that “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Our goal for the operational and bursary fund this year totaled $99,000 and as of December 31, 2009, God has blessed us with $102,500. Given the dismal financial situation that we experienced during the first half of 2009 in the world economy, this result is surely God’s special provision. Thank you for your part in this.

God is the master of surprise. It’s probably connected with his delight in mystery – letting us in on his plans just when we need to know. His promises and His subsequent supply provide us with ample reason to walk confidently with Him. I have enough experience in my role as President to know that new, unexpected challenges will emerge in the next twelve months that will require me to trust God for the solutions. Since God faithfully has led and provided in each past year, I have no doubt He will supply what is needed in 2010.

So January 1 starts us on another lap of faithful living. What a challenge – to live 365 days for God, prayerfully, passionately trusting and serving Him, and then to model this transparently and authentically before colleagues, students, and supporters. Your prayers will be a significant help, enabling me to provide faithful leadership as President of Northwest.

I have two prayer concerns that I would share with you:

1. that we will see the Holy Spirit work powerfully in the lives of many men and women, leading them to accept God’s call to ministry and the rigorous training that this will require;

2. that God will continue to bless the efforts we are making to work collaboratively with our churches and our denominational leaders to identify, encourage, and equip effective ministry leaders.

Financially, our targets for our operational and bursary funds in 2010 will be $97,000. In April 2010 we anticipate graduating, together with the seminaries in ACTS, about 65 newly-equipped ministry leaders. Your partnership in this task of leadership development remains a critical component.

May God bless you in this New Year.  May his grace “fill your sails” every day.

2009-10-17 Board Summary

Northwest Baptist Seminary

Summary of the Board of Governor’s Meeting

October 17, 2009

Every two years the Board at their October meeting gathers for a two day retreat, that incorporates their business meeting. They defined their theme this year as “learning how to develop leaders collaboratively – a ten year perspective.” So much of what the Seminary does is networked with other entities, such as our Fellowship Ministry Centre, our Seminary partners in ACTS, local churches, other Fellowship Regions, Trinity Western University, etc. The list is growing as networking and collaboration become a way of ministry. So the Board wanted an opportunity to reflect more critically and deeply about the way Northwest should develop such networks for the advancement of its mission. Presenters included David Horita, Laurie Kennedy, Mike Mawhorter, Ken Radant (ACTS Principal/Dean), and various Northwest people. The Board continues to make time to listen to our key stakeholders.

The Board’s Succession Committee presented a series of recommendations to guide the Board in the search for and appointment of a new President, beginning August 1, 2011. The Search Committee will be Larry Nelson (Board Chair), Merv Loewen (Board member), Dale Beckman (Board Member), David Horita (FEBBC/Y Regional Director), Northwest Faculty member. This process will be initiated over the coming months.

During the past two years the Board has reviewed the Northwest Bylaws. A revised set of bylaws was approved for recommendation to the April 2010, FEBBC/Y Convention. These revisions bring the Northwest Bylaws into conformity to the revised FEBBC/Y Bylaws.

At their June meeting the Board approved a revised set of Ends Policies, defining the results that the Board expects Northwest will achieve and holding the President responsible for their achievement. This has meant a revision of the strategic plan, which was tabled for the Board’s review. The Board will discuss the strategic plan again at their March 2010 meeting.

The ACTS 2008-2009 Fiscal Year ended April 30. The Board reviewed the ACTS Audited Statements and approved their acceptance, pending approval by the ACTS Joint Governance Committee. As well the Board approved support of recommendations to deal with the accumulated ACTS deficit.

The Northwest Fiscal Year coincides with calendar year. At the October meeting the Board approved basic parameters for the President to use in establishing the 2010 budget and also authorizing use of investment income to support operations, financial aid and special projects.

Northwest is grateful for the various grants it has received from the Foundation for Fellowship Baptist Ministries. The Board approved the 2009 grant application. The Board also approved the establishment of a Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Worldview Studies (Korean Language) to be done with Trinity Western University, subject to the University’s approval. The program is slated to begin July 2010. Further, the Board supported the administration’s decision to apply for membership in the Association of Theological Schools.

Dr. Rapske’s application of sabbatical in 2010 was supported by the Board.

The Senate approved the new Certificate in Children’s Ministry and the Certificate in Pastoral Formation and Leadership Studies (Korean Language), designed to assist the leadership development of our Korean churches.

If you have questions about any of these items please feel free to contact myself or the Board chair, Larry Nelson, or one of the current Board Members. You will find their names on the Northwest website.

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

Navigating Uncertainty

Recently a report came across my desk urging leaders to “master the discipline of uncertainty.” Since they cannot predict the future, leaders must “adopt, adapt, and build” new capabilities to navigate uncertainty.  Sounds severely challenging! But it is no different when it comes to equipping ministry leaders.

Diverse changes occurring in the evangelical church world, cultural swings abroad in society, and drastic adjustments in world economies generate significant uncertainties. Discerning godly direction and staying in step with the Spirit within this dense matrix requires courage, continuous learning, tenacity, and humbleness – deep, persistent listening for God’s voice.

. . . leadership is essential to the development of healthy churches

What I experience as a Seminary President I am sure you are experiencing in your world as well. I know our students sense it keenly and wonder how they will ever manage to step into God’s calling with confidence. Every day they are learning to master the discipline of uncertainty. Hopefully they see it modeled in their ministry and faculty mentors. As one student said, “I’m finally able to respond to a 30-year call to ministry. It’s intimidating, but I’m glad to have a seminary that understands what I’m doing and is committed to helping me.”

I am encouraged that our Northwest enrolment has increased 13%, to 67 students, of which 34 are part of Fellowship Baptist congregations. Northwest is the second largest seminary in the ACTS consortium. Some of these students are enrolled in the new Worship and the Arts Certificate or the Korean language Certificate in Pastoral Formation and Leadership Studies. Our new Children’s Ministry Leadership Training program begins in a few weeks built around a major conference for Children’s Ministry Leaders.

We continue to adopt, adapt and build new leadership training capacity. Be assured that  your investment in Northwest continues to generate Kingdom results. Our mission is to equip effective ministry leaders and the demand for good leaders continues to outstrip our ability to recruit and train them. We thank God for the measure of progress He is helping us achieve. Your prayers remain an instrumental part of our ministry.

But growth also brings some new challenges and one of these is financial. Through the first part of this fiscal year (January – August) our giving has remained on track. Thank you for your faithfulness. We now approach the last few months of 2009 and to accomplish the various leadership projects initiated we will require approximately $60,000. We are trusting God to meet this need through your support. Whether it is $100 or $5,000, each gift will be important. Please remember that  equities can also be gifted to Northwest.

Along with your investment in our current ministry, perhaps you would also consider a planned gift through your estate, so that the ministry of Northwest might grow with greater impact in the future.

You will find information about these various options here on our website. However, we would be pleased to help you directly, if that is more convenient (604-888-7592).

Remember, leadership is essential to the development of healthy churches.

With thanks,

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.


Continuing Education At Its Best

The end of summer encourages us to reflect on the ‘harvest’ that our work in these past months is producing. I do know that 250 pastors, lay people and emerging leaders were involved in various courses and other leadership development opportunities from May to August. This included the Smarter Families Canada workshops.

I think for me one of the most significant offerings was the Addictions and Recovery Ministry Conference we 2009-06-addiction-banner-02co-sponsored June 26-27. Sixty-five people registered and enjoyed two days of high-powered interaction with medical and ministry experts from Canada and the United States. The Liver and Intestinal Research Centre directed by Dr. Frank Anderson provided both financial support and organization leadership.

As I participated in the sessions, the presentations by Dr. Paul Earley, Medical Director at Talbot Recovery Campus, Atlanta, Georgia, gave me a whole new perspective on human addictions. From his twenty years of experience in treating addictive diseases and providing therapy to assist in recovery, he spoke with compassion, realism, and immense professional credibility. When he revealed that 6-7% of people in our society have a genetic disposition that makes them vulnerable to addictive behaviour, it astonished me. As he demonstrated how critical family history is in the development of addictive behaviour, the role of parents in breaking the chain of addiction emerged as a critical element.

One of his colleagues, Woody Roberts, is involved in the spiritual dimension of treatment and recovery. This might surprise you, but both Dr. Earley and Dr. Roberts asserted several times that addictions and recovery are at root a spiritual matter. Without acknowledged dependence upon God, the chances of an addict recovering from this behaviour are rather slim.

About 8% of Canadians wrestle with some kind of addiction – alcohol, drugs, gambling, work, pornography, food, videogames, etc. So within a congregation of 200 people, 10 to 20 of them are probably wrestling with addictive behaviours of some sort. Individuals from all socio-economic sectors are affected.

By offering this conference we assisted pastoral leaders, chaplains, counselors, medical practitioners to understand the nature of addiction, its spiritual dimensions, and the challenge of persistent recovery. This is continuing education at its best.

Already plans are underway to offer a second conference. But we realize that conferences, as helpful as they may be do not provide a sustaining training model. So we are exploring ways and means of offering focused workshops in specific aspects of recovery ministry so that ministry leaders can discern creative ways to initiate these kinds of important spiritual services in their churches and local communities. We desire to impact our society with the Gospel in this way.

Your financial support is helping to implement initiatives like this, ones that make a practical and significant difference. Thank you for your commitment to sustain and increase Northwest’s ministry.

I am sure you are wondering how we are doing financially at this point in our fiscal year (December is our year-end). God is faithful. Our investments continue to generate the income we require for our operating budget. Our gift income is at the same level it was a year ago at this time. During these last four months (September to December) we will require $65,000 in financial gifts from supporters to meet our budget. This is the same amount we raised during this period in 2008. If you can assist, please let me know.

There is another important way that you can invest in our ministry for the long term and that is through an estate gift. As you plan the disposition of your assets, perhaps you would include in those instructions a gift of 2-5% for Northwest. Normally such gifts are placed in our endowment, with the income supporting our annual budget. This is one of the most important investments you could make for Kingdom impact.

Thank you for your prayers. I trust you will enjoy all of God’s wonderful blessing in this Fall season. It will be very busy for us as we engage a new academic year.

The Parable of the Talents — How can it be applied today?

A colleague who works with Christian entrepeneurs asked me recently whether Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) offers any principles to guide Christians in business? This is a wonderfully provocative question.

1. I am strong believer in first seeking to interpret Jesus’ parables in the context of the presumed first century audience and his ministry goals. In terms of Matthew 25:14-30 the audience is Jesus’ disciples during the Last Supper. These are Jewish men who are embedded in first century, Jewish religious understanding. In terms of Jesus’ ministry goals, this is his final major discourse or cluster of teachings to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel. In my view he foretells God’s judgment against Israel for rejecting the Messiah (i.e. the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70), the way history will unfold and how this affects his new "messianic assembly", and the return of the Messiah at the end of the age. Jesus told this parable and the prior one about the Ten Virgins to explain the warnings to his disciples at the end of chapter 24, namely keep watch, be ready, serve well – because the Messiah will hold you accountable, but you do not know when he returns so be ready. Probably the last thing on Jesus’ mind at that moment was to provide principles for operating a business.

2. The situation in real life that the parable describes probably occurred fairly regularly given what we know about estate management in first century Roman Palestine. Wealthy owners often left the management of their estates in the hands of overseers. Because there were no banks as we know them today, the wealthy had to use other means to secure their property. In this parable we see one means, i.e. the division of wealth among trusted clients/servants who are expected to employ these resources to enhance the owner’s wealth and position. If the managers perform well, the master will ensure that they participate in the gains. If they do not do well, he will punish them for poor, lazy or illegal activity.

Jesus does not validate or criticize this means of doing business, he merely used it as the platform through which to express a principle of kingdom living. So I think we have to be careful not to extrapolate from the story of the parable any principles that would support a particular economic or business theory or construct.

3. The point Jesus makes is found in vv. 28-30 — the returning Messiah will hold his followers accountable for how they managed the resources (i.e. their time, abilities, wealth, knowledge, etc.) that he gave them to carry forward his mission. In some sense God will reward those who honour him and work carefully and profitably, taking risks in order to expand the influence of God’s rule. How and in what way God helps such people increase these "talents" is left unexplained. Further, how God in the heavenly sphere defines the rewards He gives is a matter for speculation. Such people will share their "master’s happiness" (v.23). Those who dishonour God by refusing to take risks to enlarge his rule are regarded as unworthy and have no share in God’s future. This is similar, in my view, to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:21-23. People in that context knew what God required but decided to ignore Him. So He ignores them and will not allow them to participate in his glorious future.

So, what does this parable have to say about business or entrepreneurial activity? For general business operations, I would say nothing specific. From the point of view of a Christian who discerns that the best way for him or her to fulfill God’s calling in Christ is through marketplace ministry (however, that is defined), then I think the key point would be – use the gifts and abilities God has given to extend God’s rule in every sphere your life touches, including the world of business, even if this requires considerable risk. But I think that this applies equally to the Christian who is a stay-at-home mom, the Christian university student, or the believer who is incapacitated and can’t participate in the marketplace.

God’s Purposes in Crisis

The English word ‘crisis’ has its origins in a Greek noun meaning “exercise judgment.” A crisis requires a person to discern very carefully a just response to current or emerging circumstances. Usually it defined the activity of judges in a legal setting, evaluating the behaviour of people and holding them accountable. Times of crisis require us to evaluate what we have been doing and discern its continued viability and validity.

Two years ago Northwest and its partnering seminaries in the Associated Canadian Theological Schools initiated a strategic planning process. It was time to review our collaborative ministry. Enrolments were decreasing and financial pressures were increasing. The Consortium had been operating for eighteen years. We needed to re-examine our collective vision. We were well into that strategic planning process, discerning some new directions, when the current world economic crisis developed (summer 2008).

Dr. Kenton AndersonI am pleased to share that one of the new initiatives that our strategic planning discerned, largely through the creative insight of our Dean, Dr. Kent Anderson, is now operational and beginning to generate significant attention. I believe it represents a paradigm shift in the way seminaries provide ministry leadership training.

We call the initiative The Centre for Ministry Excellence (CME). It is a joint venture of Trinity Western University and the Consortium. Essentially it enables Christian agencies who provide a wide variety of equipping opportunities (such as worship leadership training, children’s ministry development, camp leadership development, etc.) to link with Northwest, ACTS and Trinity to accredit this training. Through this collaborative networking the Christian agency is able to offer accredited learning opportunities and the Seminary is able to extend its ministry with very low risk.

One of the opportunities presented in this is Worship Leadership Training offered by Dr. Kelly Ballard of Beyond Worship, a worship consulting agency based in Oregon. As Dr. Anderson says, “By collaborating with Beyond Worship, we are able to bring the best worship leadership resources possible to our churches, without sacrificing academic credibility. Kelly Ballard works with many of the top worship educators in North America and we are immeasurably enriched by being able to partner with this network.”

Dr. Paul EarlyAnother great learning forum will happen June 26-27, 2009. One of the leading addictions counselors in North America, Dr. Paul Earley, will be participating in our Addictions and Recovery MinistriesConference. The LAIR Medical Centre, directed by Dr. Frank Anderson, is co-sponsoring this conference with Northwest. Our desire is to highlight the issue of addictions and ways that the transforming power of Jesus can break their power.

The current crisis is stimulating us to redefine the way ministry leadership training can be offered and accessed across North America and even in other regions of the world. Your investment in Northwest enables us to carry forward this vision for equipping ministry leaders in a truly global manner. The Kingdom implications are significant.

Our 2009 financial goal for supporting such initiatives as CME is $100,000. Currently we have received 17% towards achieving this target. It is normal for us to be at this level in our fund-raising efforts at this point in the year. I am noticing that our supporters, while giving faithfully, are not able to give as much as in previous years. Thank you for your sacrificial help. Please pray that God will provide for our needs.

God uses crisis to enhance his glory and accomplish his purposes.

Green Shoots

Green shoots” is the lingo economists and business gurus are using to describe the signs of economic recovery, at least what they hope are the signs. I have no expertise to discern whether these green shoots are weeds or wheat, I have to leave that to others more competent or perhaps more daring than I.

Jesus stressed the importance of being able to read the spiritual signs that mark our times. Consider Luke 23:31 “For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” or Luke 21:29-30 “When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.” His teachings suggest that God does broadcast his intentions in advance – green shoots. The question for us is this – do we discern them?

Recently I watched a documentary entitled Revealed: Hip 2B Holy on Global TV that documented the resurging interest among Canadian younger adults in the Gospel message. Kevin Newman Global National anchor, who hosts and also co-wrote and co-produced the documentary, says: “They seem to be in the middle of a significant rebranding exercise for conservative Protestant faith and are making significant inroads among curious young Canadians.” Are these “green shoots” indicating a significant shift in attitudes towards the Gospel? Perhaps.

God’s “green shoots” meaningful in our Seminary context include:

  • people responding to God’s call to train for ministry leadership
  • people willing to invest in developing leaders by supporting the Seminary
  • people dedicating their lives and their gifts to teaching and mentoring emerging leaders
  • people engaging vigorously the challenges of planting churches or moving churches to greater health and Kingdom enterprise
  • people moving to other parts of the world to translate the Bible or engage the hard work of developing new ministry leaders in national church networks.

By God’s grace there are many “green shoots”, emerging and continuing ministry leaders. They tell us God’s harvest is ready and He invites us to reap with Him.

One “green shoot” that is making an impact for Christ is Erika Lui. She graduated in 2000 with the Master of Theological Studies in Counselling. She recently connected with me and noted her work with S.U.C.C.E.S.S. in the Family and Youth Services division. Her story could be multiplied in the experience of many other alumni.

God continues to develop his Kingdom plan and his Spirit energetically works among his people. Discerning the “green shoots” and helping them grow and mature is part of our Seminary work. Thank you for your helping us fulfill this important work. At this point in our fiscal year your support is particularly required.

Jimmy Long: The Leadership Jump

Jimmy Long. The Leadership Jump. Building Partnerships Between Existing and Emerging Christian Leaders (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). 205 pages.

Writing from his experience as a leader and leadership developer for many years within InterVarsity, Jimmy Long passionately argues that existing and emerging Christian leaders need one another in order to guide the church through the present cultural chaos into an uncertain future. In his view serious differences in leadership style and savvy follow the modernist and postmodernist fault line. Fearing debilitating “leadership wars” in the church, similar to the worship wars, he urges both kinds of Christian leaders to collaborate, rather than contend.

Long places the burden for change squarely on the shoulders of the existing leaders. Their current leadership style characterized by the principles of control, command, and celebrity (145) must change. Rather, they must learn how to give away power, to lead through relationships, and to recognize the expertise, gifts and insights that emerging leaders possess. For their part emerging leaders need to exercise patience, value the experience that existing leaders possess, and choose to work collaboratively without a critical spirit.

He uses position and role as fundamental categories around which to arrange his argument. The essential leadership shifts he sees occurring are summarized on page 42. For example, existing leaders who operate on the basis of positional authority will have to alter their perspective, because for emerging leaders authority is something earned, independent of any position. Further the mantra that leaders cannot show weakness should be turned on its head because emerging leaders value authenticity and vulnerability, rather than a pretense of perfection. A leader’s role in the 21st century context will be to walk with the team on a journey of exploration, rather than to know both the goal and how to arrive at that destination.

Evangelical leaders must, in Long’s view, find forums within which to nurture significant conversation between existing and emerging leaders in order to avert “leadership wars” and potential destabilization of many churches and Christian agencies. Existing leaders who function using a hierarchical leadership model will frustrate and eventually lose gifted emerging leaders. Long urges existing leaders to adopt a team leadership approach that encourages shared responsibility, unleashes the creativity potential in emerging leaders, and permits the opportunity to take risks. Let’s admit, he says, that we do not know what church ministry is going to look like in the future and commit to learning together what it may become.

Long’s analysis of the difference between existing and emerging church leadership styles displays considerable reflection and expertise garnered from developing emerging leaders over many years. Different perspectives on leadership do exist and if we fail to recognize them and deal with them, our ability to lead will be compromised, the church will suffer, and emerging leaders will be stifled, if not discouraged from pursuing their ministry leadership. “Both existing and emerging leaders feel alone and uncertain of what the future holds. Both sets of leaders need each other to overcome their fears and ease their uncertainty about the future” (33). Existing leaders might feel somewhat stereotyped by Long’s descriptions, but his perspective still has value.

In responding to Long’s proposal I will consider two of Long’s presuppositions and two of his prescriptions. First the presuppositions.

  1. Long believes that Church leaders in the modernist period erred by borrowing too heavily from business models in order to define both the leadership position and role in the church.  “Like the corporate world, the modern church has emphasized a corporate culture where the goals are clear, the mission is clear and there is not a lot of fluff….This type of leadership model from the Western corporate world tends to induce compliance from its members, not foster commitment or creativity” (50). This model of leadership no longer is aligned with postmodernist culture and its values, in Long’s view.

    When he describes the leadership paradigm that should replace this “corporate” understanding of leadership, however, he defaults once more to the world of business to find solutions. Again and again he quotes from articles or studies about emerging leaders in the business world published in the Harvard Business Review or Business News or the Academy of Management Executive. I am not critical of him doing this because we have much to learn about leadership through such publications. It is ironic, however, that he seems to depend upon the corporate world as it now exists in postmodernism to define the emerging leader’s position and role, even in the church. There is no suspicion that such sources today may be just as tainted and misguided for defining emerging leadership positions and roles in the church as they were twenty years ago when the church was enamored with the corporate leader model.

    In my view we must constantly be evaluating the degree to which the leadership perspectives, principles and practices occurring in the corporate world are helpful for determining church leadership praxis. Leadership is a cultural phenomenon and as culture changes so will our leadership perceptions and practices.

  1. Long’s second presupposition is that we can discern Jesus’ leadership model and that Jesus’ model supports the emerging leaders’ perspectives on the position and role of church leaders. I agree that we must examine Jesus’ teachings and actions to inform our understanding of church leadership. After all, the church is his idea, not ours. He is the head, not us. So rightly Long seeks to ground his prescriptions for a new leadership paradigm in the person of Jesus. Almost every chapter has some reference to Jesus.

    There is a problem, however. Long is not the only one who turns to Jesus to discern the most appropriate leadership principles. Hybels and Maxwell, to name two noted leadership gurus, would also claim to ground their understandings of leadership, as different as they may be from Long’s perceptions, in Jesus.

    What kind of exegesis allows us to bend the life and teachings of Jesus to serve and promote such diverse leadership models? Were the twelve apostles really functioning as a “ministry team” in any meaningful sense? What about Jesus’ statements where he defines himself as master and teacher and his disciples as his followers and learners? His followers are to wear his yoke, not one of their own devising. Did Jesus lack a vision? Was his vision not dominant? Is it really the case that “for Jesus, who was on the team was more important than where they were going”? Jesus seems to be very focused, at least according to Luke 9:51 where “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Where does he invite his disciples to help him cast the vision? In what sense did Jesus lead in weakness? Jesus does say in John 13:3 that “the Father had put all things under his [Jesus’] power.” We must acknowledge some mystery here in the way Jesus integrates washing his disciples’ feet with this power. The Gospel narratives present a Jesus who is very much in charge, submissive to God’s will, embracing the cross in fulfillment of his mission, but triumphing over his enemies. He is an authoritative leader. So in what sense is he weak and vulnerable?  
    We might extend this discussion to how Moses or Paul or other people in Scripture become illustrations for various models of leadership. It seems to me that too often we play fast and loose with the biblical narrative in these matters and must exercise considerably more exegetical discipline before claiming Jesus or some other biblical personality as an example of our particular leadership model.
    On a minor note Long’s exegesis of Luke 10:27 (page 110) in support of relational leadership, i.e. leadership in community, is suspect. Long proposes that the second great commandment “love your neighbour as yourself” is plural in formation, meaning “people are to love as a community.” However, this is not the case. Both pronominal forms in this command are singular, not plural. His exegesis is unsustainable in this instance.

    Earlier (page 108) he suggests that Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8 incorporates “a plural word for ‘you’” and “Jesus meant, ‘You will be my witnesses in community [author’s italics]’.” It may be that the context of Acts leads to this exegetical conclusion. However, there is nothing in the use of the second person plural pronoun that necessarily means this command should be fulfilled in a communal manner. The plural pronoun will not carry that freight all on its own.

Long offers several prescriptions as possible solutions to these incipient “leadership wars.” The first is that leadership must be exercised in a team context. Biblically the metaphor of the body, in his view, serves to support the need for diverse individuals to contribute to the leadership, based upon expertise and giftedness (although I wonder whether this leadership application of the metaphor was in Paul’s mind). The function of the team leader is to enable the team to fulfill its communal leadership responsibility. Again, there is good practical wisdom that Long offers to help leaders understand this. However, what I missed in all of these discussions is any guidance about the need for accountability and how it works in such structures. I think I noted two occasions where the word “accountability” occurs in his book. Existing leaders are urged to let emerging leaders have space to risk and fail. Such experiences are important for developing leadership competence. Accountability, however, still has to be present. Without accountability leadership runs the serious danger of becoming dictatorial, self-serving, and manipulative. Emerging and existing leaders both must learn how to lead with accountability.

The second prescription that Long proposes is that existing leaders must let emerging leaders pursue their dreams and not be controlling. Again, Long’s idea has merit. Good leaders give space for those on their team to discover creative solutions to current and emerging problems. But Long does not seem to recognize that existing leaders also have dreams and are working hard to implement them. It seems that emerging leaders want control to implement their dreams and existing leaders want control to implement their dreams. When dreams clash, how do you arbitrate? Not every new idea is a good idea; not every idea will move the ministry towards mission fulfillment; not every idea is prudent; not every idea is timely. Part of leadership competency is ability to discern which ideas really have legs. This is not so much an issue of control, as an issue of deep wisdom, the kind of wisdom that James discusses in his letter (3:13-18).

Long sounds a necessary caution as the Evangelical church seeks to discern how leadership should be exercised in these times. If leadership is essentially a cultural phenomenon, then we do need to discern the scriptural principles that will help the church evaluate which elements of leadership practiced in our culture are compatible with Kingdom values. If church health is inevitably tied to good ministry leadership, then we have to understand how to provide such leadership within the faith community so that Jesus’ Kingdom mandates are being fulfilled in culturally relevant ways. Diverse views about ways of leading probably have always marked leadership transitions from one generation to another. Let’s recognize this reality and have the spiritual maturity to deal with it in ways that are good for the church.

Christian Freedom

A friend recently gave me a copy of Steve Brown’s book A Scandalous Freedom. The Radical Nature of the Gospel. Maybe he thought my life was confined by too many ‘don’ts’ and wanted me to discover afresh the gift of freedom in Christ. 

Brown’s thesis is quite basic — Christians in North America have lost the true sense of Gospel freedom that they possess. Instead, Christianity has become another religious system, using rules and other pressures to provoke its followers to moral living and good deeds. In succombing to this less than Gospel understanding of  Jesus’ message, believers remain "afraid, guilty and bound." Legalism, wrong teaching, abusive leadership, false expectations all conspire to rob believers of their freedom.  "There is so much more to being a Christian than obeying rules, doing religious things, and being ‘nice’."

With considerable wit, insight into ‘churchianity’, personal transparency, pastoral care, and theological acuity, Brown challenges us to be free. His goal is to help Christians recapture true Christian freedom and  become the potent Kingdom force that God intended them to be, living with joy, courage, and peace. They will know God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness and it is deeply liberating.

Brown’s objective is admirable and in many instances needed. It is important to grasp and build into our lives the wonderful liberty that Jesus has purchased for us. Conversely, we have to reject pretense, tradition for the sake of tradition, the paralysis generated by fear, and attempts by some Christians to control. However, I have my reservations about Brown’s presentation.

1. Paul revels in the freedom Jesus provides from sin’s power and the burden of generating our own righteousness. Brown rightly emphasizes this. In Galatians 3 to 5 Paul describes the astonishing transformation — believers are no longer under the power of the Law, the curse of sin, the weak and beggarly cosmic powers. But just as much as he celebrates this significant liberation, he emphasizes that God’s invitation to live in his freedom means "walking in the Spirit," "keeping in step with the Spirit," and recognizing that "I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me." The freedom we have in Christ is not autonomy; it is a freedom to be one of the Messiah’s "Kingdom of Priests", the Messiah who is our Lord. As Paul says in Romans 6:22 that we "have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God." I did not perceive this side of the biblical freedom equation in Brown’s presentation.

2.   Paul also emphasizes that our freedom is exercised in the context of Christian community. Brown places significant emphasis on the believer as individual, but does not seem to balance this with the biblical reality of believer as part of the body of Christ. As a believer I am not free to be me without restraint. The three great commandments — love God, love neighbour, and make disciples — sets each believer in a new relational network that shapes the nature of Christian freedom. God has not purchased through the Cross my freedom so that I can sin and harm Christ’s body, bring disrepute to the Gospel, and advance Satan’s cause. Of course, Christians sin and God still loves us. In his extensive discussion on the boundaries of Christian freedom, Paul concludes "Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible — but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others" (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). For Paul the best way is the way of love and this gets worked out in the community of faith primarily. Jesus warned us about causing one disciple to sin. For him this was an important issue.

3.   Christians are to be and do good. Whether you read 1 Peter or Titus (or the Sermon on the Mount), one of the outcomes of Kingdom living is goodness — expressed in our being and our actions. We do not manufacture this ourselves, but are dependent upon the Holy Spirit for its production (note the imagery Paul used about the "fruit of the Spirit"). However, we also have responsibility, as Jesus put it, "to seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). Peter said that Jesus sacrificed himself "so that having died to sins we might live for righteousness" (1 Peter 2:24). Brown is right to point out that this should result in a "holier than thou" attitude or a self-righteous, judgmental spirit. Doing good flows out of the love the Spirit gives us for others. Being good arises from the Spirit’s consist guidance and empowerment to resist evil.

There is both spiritual freedom and spiritual discipline in Christ. While believers no longer live under the authority of the law’s tutelage, they are indeed "slaves of Christ."  As a Christian I am born again into God’s family, but He is the Father and as Peter reminds us the "one who judges with impartiality." Peter urges us "as obedient children…to be holy in all that you do" 

More could be said, but space does not allow it. By all means read Brown’s book. However, I do not think his presentation provides an adequate, nuanced biblical understanding of our freedom in Christ"(1 Peter 1:14).

Does the Ending Matter? Mark 16

After Mark 16:8 the New International Version adds the bracketed statement "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." But then they print some additional material (vv. 9-20). What are readers to do? Should they ignore what follows and consider Mark 16:8 as the ending of this Gospel? Should they pay some attention to vv. 9-20 but not really regard them as part of the Bible, an interesting but non-scriptural accretion? And have the NIV editors really described the textual evidence regarding these verses appropriately? What’s a pastor to do who’s preaching Mark’s Gospel? How do you explain what all this is about? Tricky stuff!

There is no question that this Gospel’s ending is a textual challenge. But so are other parts of the Bible (e.g. the ending of Romans, the double text in Acts, etc.). We have to deal with the data honestly and carefully.

1. The earliest evidence we have for the ending of Mark’s Gospel comes from the latter half of the second century. In the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus there seems to be allusion and quotation from Mark 16:9-20, suggesting that their copies of this Gospel included the longer ending. It also seems that Justin’s protégé, Tatian, knew the longer ending when he created his Gospel Synopsis (Diatessaron) in this same period. Whether these early church pastor-scholars knew of a short form of Mark’s Gospel cannot be determined. So the earliest references to Mark seem to know a form of this Gospel that ends with 16:20.

2. It is true that two notable and valuable codices dating to the 4th century (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) do not have the longer ending in their current form. It is their evidence primarily that leads the NIV and other modern translations to make the kinds of statements they do after Mark 16:8. However, this is not the whole story.

First, in the case of Vaticanus, the scribe at the end of Mark’s Gospel leaves a column and half empty, beginning Luke’s Gospel on a fresh page. Although the scribes who wrote Vaticanus left gaps at the end of other books, these gaps correspond to the end of sections (i.e. Nehemiah (2 Esdras) and Psalms; Tobit and Hosea). Two scribes produced Vaticanus and these breaks correlate to the division of their labours or the division between the Old and New Testaments (i.e. Daniel and Matthew). However, in the case of Mark’s Gospel, the gap at the end does not correlate to such a division. One scribe copied the New Testament materials in Vaticanus. This gap between Mark and Luke does suggest that the scribe knew something was missing and perhaps left space for it to be added. Although the scribe did not mark this textual alteration in his usual manner, leaving a gap in the text seems to have been the signal that something was omitted.

In the case of Sinaiticus, it is interesting to note that precisely where Mark ends, the pages in the original manuscript has been replaced with different pages produced by another scribe. This scribe is one of those that produced Vaticanus (but not the one that produced the New Testament section of Vaticanus). H.J.M.Milne and T.C.Skeat in their publication Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus  (1938) hypothesize that this replacement occurred because the original scribe "must have duplicated a long passage in the course of writing [Luke]" (p.10).  While they argue against the original scribe’s inclusion of Mark 16:9-20 (because in their view this ending cannot fit in the space available), they still have to conjecture that the original scribe made a massive textual error of some sort that had to be remedied. I would conclude that we cannot tell what ending for Mark Sinaiticus may have had originally. To postulate some massive corruption at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel that has no basis in the textual history of Luke’s Gospel rather then attribute this folio change to known difficulties with the ending of Mark’s Gospel seems odd.

3. Some argue on the basis of language usage that 16:9-20 is by a different hand or that 16:8 forms a very dramatic and suitable ending to the Gospel. There are some linguistic and lexical differences between Mark 1-16:8 and 16:9-20. However, we have to be careful not to exaggerate them. Further whether 16:8 is an appropriate ending depends on how one understands the narrative purpose of the writer. For example, if this Gospel story, which emphasizes discipleship, ends with all Jesus’ followers abandoning him and paralyzed by fear, what hope does this give subsequent believers that they will succeed where others failed? 

 We cannot solve such difficult questions in the short scope of a blog. My point is simply this — let us be careful to state the evidence clearly so that biblical readers can make a truely informed decision. The cryptic statement by the NIV editors after Mark 16:8 fails in my opinion to serve the readers adequately. The ending of Mark’s Gospel is too important and needs more careful consideration.

The “Vision” Quest

The pastor read what the church leadership expert wrote — the leader casts the vision! The elders were expecting him to come forward with "the vision". What would they think about his ability to lead if he couldn’t deliver? The weight of this expectation seemed to crush him. Where was he to find "the vision" for his congregation? What process could he follow to insure that he would find the right one at just the right time? What would happen if the vision he articulated turned out to be the wrong one? Where in the Bible could he find instructions about "casting the vision?" Did Paul discuss this or Peter or James or one of the Gospel writers? Of course, Jesus could do it, but he’s God!

How would you advise this pastor? Should he attempt a forty day fast and anticipate in that process that God would reveal the vision for that church? Or maybe he should have a conversation with every ministry leader in his church and seek to distil from their input a vision, a kind of congregational, visional, collage. Perhaps spending several nights in prayer would bring some clarity. Or maybe he could visit the websites of the ten most successfull churches in his area, discover their visions and plagiarize. Possibly the best strategy is to do nothing, hoping that in some serendipitous moment the vision will just come. Probably church leaders have used some or all of the above as means to "cast the vision" for their church. And undoubtedly some of these methods (apart from the plagiarism bit) might be of some help.

Vision-casting is more than an individual activity. There must be a testing of a potential vision’s validity among the faith community’s leaders. They will undoubtedly offer some significant refinements that will improve it. In the process they will come to own it too.

I think vision-casting represents the interaction of the faith community’s history, biblical reflection, wise listening to key leaders,  analysis of the larger community, prayerful search for God’s direction, careful discernment of potential resources, and a humble, sober sense of the leader’s abilities.

  • The vision will have some continuity with the faith community’s story.
  • Centering it within a biblical narrative gives confidence that it reflects biblical values and has coherence with God’s activity — the Great Commandments and the Great Commission.
  • Discerning what other ministry leaders in the congregation have learned about the church’s potential enables you to locate some key boundaries for the vision.
  • The realities of the surrounding community — demographics, needs, aspirations — generates a sense of coherence between the church’s vision and the community’s situation.
  • Vision-casting ultimately must be a spiritual exercise, accomplished in dependence upon God.
  • Take stock of the human, financial and physical resources that might be available to accomplish the vision.
  • Since God has called you to this position of pastoral leadership, you can have confidence that somehow your spiritual gifting will fit the vision, otherwise perhaps your leadership would be better applied in another context.

The outcome should be a simple, understandable, comprehensive statement that defines what this church has the potential to accomplish within this community over the next decade, with God’s help.

Vision-casting is more than an individual activity. There must be a testing of a potential vision’s validity among the faith community’s leaders. They will undoubtedly offer some significant refinements that will improve it. In the process they will come to own it too.

 Discerning the vision for a congregation will be the result of many conversations — with God, with Scripture, with people, with the larger community, with yourself.  It will answer the question — by God’s help we believe that in (___) years through this congregation __________. Some might say that this is merely a statement of desired outcome. My response would be — and is that not vision, a careful discernment of God’s desired future for this congregation? 

Life Transforming Study of God’s Word

For over thirty years I have had the privilege annually to teach in depth some portion of God’s word. This semester my focus was the Gospel of Matthew. What a challenge to lead emerging ministry leaders to engage these vital, authoritative words of Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. And to do this in a way that is obedient to Jesus’ instruction – “you have one Teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:10) – adds to the heavy sense of responsibility.

Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with a man determined to secure for himself eternal life (Matthew 19:16-30). Jesus requires a different obedience – not to the Old Testament Law, but to himself. He will have “treasure in heaven” (21) only if he follows Jesus with full commitment. Jesus requires him to sell his property and give it away, probably because his wealth was too much of an idol for him. The man leaves, filled with sadness “because he had great wealth” (22). The cost Jesus required seemed to outweigh the potential benefits.

One of my students decided to preach on this text at Union Gospel Mission. Our reflection on it in class had stimulated in him some fresh ideas that God’s Spirit was urging him to share. So he did and through this means six people decided that evening to accept Jesus as their Saviour.

I share this to illustrate how powerful the close, detailed study of God’s word can be for effective ministry – even resulting in the salvation of many people.

Sometimes I hear people criticizing seminaries as being too academic or too much of an ‘ivory tower’ and I am sure those complaints have some justification. But there are just as many stories that students tell revealing how life-transforming studying God’s word or theology or church history or missions has been for them, especially the interactions with other students and the faculty. God works within seminary walls too in order to advance his Kingdom in dynamic ways.

In a few days (April 18) Northwest and its partners in ACTS will be graduating about 65 students in eight different degree and diploma programs. Denominational leaders, senior pastors, church planters, Bible translators, counselors, youth pastors, chaplains – all start a new chapter of their ministry life, better trained and hopefully more passionate to serve Jesus. This will mark the conclusion to our 68th year of ministry leadership training. To the Glory of God.

Thank you for your continued prayers and gifts that enable our ministry to flourish and to advance of God’s Kingdom significantly. Your stewardship in this ministry matters.

What’s Sunday For?

The resurrection of Jesus inaugurated one of the most remarkable changes in human religious observance – Sunday became the day of the week for Christian worship. Up to that point in history, Sunday was just another day in the week, a day for work, commerce, and , if you were wealthy enough, pleasure. But Christians made Sunday “the Lord’s Day,” determined to celebrate the Messiah’s resurrection and humanities’ salvation. And this happens first in the Jewish context – something even more astonishing given its commitments to Sabbath and the seventh day of the week.

Naming Sunday “the Lord’s Day” connects it with the “day of the Lord”, an expression found frequently in the Old Testament. The “day of the Lord” marked Yahweh’s incursion into history for salvation or judgment. The resurrection of Jesus Messiah and his ascension demonstrated God’s new action to re-create his people. Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, is a constant reminder of God’s gracious intervention in Christ, a celebration of our new hope in Christ, and an affirmation of our expectation the Christ will return for the final “Day of the Lord.”

When Christians gathered on Sunday, they made a statement about their identity and the nature of their Messianic community. Jesus is Lord, our Lord! We are his people, his church! We are the demonstration plot of God’s Kingdom rule – chosen race, priestly kingdom, holy nation, God’s special people!

But Sunday also marks a fundamental change in the way Christians understand their lives. By making their affirmations about Jesus and their relationship to him on the “first day of the week,” Christians declare that this is the foundation for all of the ensuing days of the week. Sunday sets the stage for the entire week to become the opportunity to worship God and exalt Jesus in all that they do – in the household, in the marketplace, in the civic community. Sunday is not the end of the week, it is the beginning.

Further, by celebrating on this day, Christians declare that God’s Sabbath rest now envelopes their whole lives. Every day is Sabbath because salvation is secure in Christ, God’s Spirit is resident within, and their whole lives become a continual sacrifice to God. All of life is worship. Jesus offered “rest for our souls” and as the author of Hebrews explains, we have entered into our rest in Christ (Hebrew 4).

When believers understand this significant shift created by the resurrection of Jesus, it sets life within an entirely new frame of reference. Monday to Saturday become the setting for our “ministries,” i.e. the opportunity to be Kingdom agents for God in the workplace, our families and our communities. Sunday’s equip us and remind us of our fundamental allegiance to God and the great Kingdom project He has invited us to participate in.

What’s your Sunday for?

Leading Without Blinders

Churches grow and diminish; educational institutions thrive and then fade; missions burn fervently and then stagnate; denominations ebb and flow. People express considerable curiosity about the factors that cause human institutions to flourish for a time, but then, it seems inevitably, begin to falter or at least lose their initial momentum.

E.Gibbons wrote The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, seeking to isolate the key element that led to the disintegration and collapse of that Empire whose power for centuries seemed immutable. In our time we have observed the disintegration of the Soviet domination and people speculate whether the leadership of the United States similarly has peaked. Will the 21st Century be China’s Century?

These issues also apply to religious institutions. Will the Willowcreek Movement, when Bill Hybels retires, retain its vigour? What happens to the influence of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association when Dr. Graham passes away? What happens to a thriving church plant when the initial church planter moves on? Or what about the church that has surged in growth to 500 or a 1000 through the leadership of a really competent, godly pastoral leader — and that leader, for whatever reason, no longer is present? WIll it sustain its vision and momentum?

Within the ACTS Consortium of which Northwest Baptist Seminary is a member we have been pursuing a course of renewed vision. Several leadership changes have happened.Membership in the consortium is changing. Educating ministry leaders is experiencing serious, deep change. Economic challenges limit our choices for renewal. The energizing times a decade ago, when every year saw growth, have been replaced with a pattern of enrolment decline and budget retrenchment. Twenty years into our collaborative vision, we are working hard to discern the way forward to renewed vision and vigour.

If prayer, effort, energy, and creative thinking have anything to do with it, then ACTS and its member seminaries will experience a resurgence. We have examined carefully what has caused our loss of momentum. Collectively we have gathered our best wisdom internally and externally to discern what our future pathway must be. Plans are being implemented to initiate these new ideas. We are ready to risk, ready to move forward, ready to try again, because we care about the mission God has given to us and we desire to serve God and his church.

To get to this position has required us to adopt an attitude of institutional humility. Admitting that we may not have got some things right or acknowledging that what once worked well, no longer is effective — these are hard things. Being willing to listen to other voices than our own and take seriously the wisdom they offer requires gracious submission to God’s Spirit. We have to trust new leadership and after careful deliberation take new risks. We have to fashion new clay vessels within which to carry the valued goods of ministry leadership training.

I think for me the most significant lesson I have learned as a leader throught these past several years is that we started the process for ACTS’ renewal too late. We failed to re-invigorate our collaborative work soon enough. We failed to see some of the warning signs and respond with sufficient vigour and energy to deal with them.

Hindsight is always wiser. However, if we do not learn from our experience, then we probably will repeat the same mistakes. I think this is the burden of leadership — to keep learning from our experience and innovating for the future, while energetically maintaining effective mission and ministry in the present. Incompetence in any one of these three will result in significant damage to the ministry you lead. Paying attention to one more than the others can also jeopardize achieving outcomes.

Ministry Assessment Process

Human beings have been creating simple maps before they knew how to write. The oldest maps in the world pre-date the third millennium before Christ. Our desire to locate ourselves and find our destination seems to be as old as human creation itself. And this cartographic creativity is not limited to one group of human beings. Various ancient cultures created their own maps.

Locating ourselves in terms of God’s purposes requires a different kind of map. This April as part of our annual Fellowship Convention and Leadership Conference Northwest is introducing the Ministry Assessment Process (M.A.P.). This is a collaborative initiative under the auspices of the Fellowship Centre for Leadership Development, with initial funding provided by a grant from the Baptist Foundation.

Dr. Lyle SchragM.A.P. offers individuals in our churches the opportunity to explore deeply God’s calling and direction for ministry. We have invited pastors to recommend individuals and be willing to mentor them as they begin this journey of exploration. At the end of the process our goal is for each participant to understand God’s calling in life and to have designed an equipping pathway to move intentionally in that direction.

If our Fellowship of churches is to be healthy and achieving its vision, we know that many more, godly, effective ministry leaders must be discerned, mentored and equipped. The M.A.P. initiative represents another means by which Northwest seeks to serve effectively as a primary leadership development agency within the Western Regions of our Fellowship. Our intent is to re-ignite within our churches a keener awareness of God’s calling into ministry.

I am also pleased to report that The Journey, our Centre for Graduate Ministry Leadership Training in Edmonton, has completed its second cycle of courses this February. Dr. Kent Anderson was one of the teachers, offering a course in preaching. The third series of courses will be offered in May, 2009.

Planning, implementing and sustaining ministry leadership training initiatives requires significant personnel and financial resources. These are intensive Kingdom training activities, deserving the very best resources we can provide. Your continued investment in Northwest Baptist Seminary ensures their success. The long term health of our churches and other Kingdom ministries depends upon it.

Thank you for your consistent prayer and financial support for our ministry.

A Brief Note on Gunaikes in 1 Timothy 3:11 – Deacons or Wives?

In response to one of my blogs someone asked how we are to understand the role of the women mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:11. Are they to be included among the diakonoi, i.e. deacons, or were they the wives of male diakonoi. In other words, did women serve in an official capacity as diakonoi (deacons) in the early church?

Responding to such a question requires more space than a blog provides. However, the query directly asked whether Charles Ryrie’s statement that Paul could have used “diakonos with the feminine article or diakonissa would probably have come to his mind” (Charles Ryrie, The Role of Women in the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), 91), if he had intended to state that women were serving as diakonoi, was supported by the evidence.
Howard Marshall in The Pastoral Epistles (London: T. & T. Clark, 1999), 493 notes that “no feminine form of diakonos existed to serve as a technical designation.” William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 202 says that “the feminine form of the word diakonos (diakonissa) had not yet been created.”So diakonissa was not a option for Paul at this time. By far the majority of uses documented come much later than the New Testament period. The major Classical Greek Lexicon compiled by Liddell and Scott list one example found in an inscription, but it offers no proposed dating for this inscription. So I think that Marshall and Mounce are right in saying that a feminine form diakonissa did not exist when Paul was writing 1Timothy and so Ryrie is wrong in this part of his argument.
Paul could have written hai diakonoi, using the feminine form of the Greek article to signal that he was referring to female deacons. Herbert Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956), 46) states that “many nouns denoting persons are either masculine or feminine.” He cites the noun pais as an example. With the masculine article it means ‘boy’, but with the feminine article it means ‘girl’. Diakonos has the same characteristic.
If Paul is referring to female deacons, he seems to have chosen a different strategy. In this section where he is discussing the general character of diakonoi, he includes a section that refers to the general character of female deacons, but refers to them simply as gunaikes. He then completes his discussion by mentioning some specific behaviour that should characterize male deacons. We might question why Paul does not discuss all aspects of male deacons first and then talk about “the women” deacons, but Paul is the writer. We can only speculate why he chose to write it in this order.
As Ryrie points out, Phoebe, in Romans 16:1 is described as diakonon t?s ekkl?sias, i.e. deacon/servant of the church which is in Cenchrea. In this context Paul is quite comfortable using the noun diakonos to describe her. 
Certainly the term diakonos can be applied to a woman (e.g. Phoebe), but whether in such a case it has a technical or general sense remains debated. That Paul connects Phoebe in this role with a specific church might argue for more of a technical, official sense. How such officials functioned in the early church and whether male and female diakonoi exercised the same roles is unclear. We have to work very hard lest we read back our 21st century assumptions as to what women can and cannot do in the church, into the first century emerging Christian house churches as described in the New Testament.



Discerning God’s Plans

His Mighty Power at Work in Us” (Eph. 3:20)

We are almost two months into our new fiscal year. The strategic plan I presented to the Board for 2009 gradually is unfolding, but the energy required to move our desired projects from idea, through planning, to implementation and then evaluation and redesign is immense.

With God it is different. He speaks and the universe is created. No gap exists between his thought and the actualization of his thought. He has no limits to his ideas, his power, and his presence. His ideas may have stages, but their implementation happens effortlessly. He feels no weariness or doubts. With God, second-guessing never occurs. He sees the end from the beginning. Resources are never lacking. His will does get done “on earth” and “in heaven.” Not so with us.

God tells us in his word that unless our plans are in step with his they ultimately will fail. We believe that God can turn our failures into his successes because He is God. However, the opposite is not true – we cannot bend God’s plans to serve our personal agendas.

I think the greatest challenge believers have, particularly believers in positions of leadership, is to discern God’s plans and seek to align the mission and vision of their ministry as much as possible with God’s agenda. This is easier said than done. Even when we seek to gather God’s wisdom through a group of mature Christian leaders, like a board of governors, it is an act of faith to expect we can and will discern God’s direction.

One of these “acts of faith” embedded in our 2009 strategic plan focuses upon training Children’s Ministry leaders. In the past few years God has generated among Evangelical churches a new vision for children’s ministry, but finding effective, competent leaders for such ministries has proven to be challenging. God has put the desire within our collective hearts at Northwest to try and respond to this leadership deficit. Despite numerous discussions, the way forward has not been clear. However, thanks be to God, we can see a program for training Children’s Ministry Leaders potentially in place and implemented by September, 2009. Perhaps God is signaling to us that it is time for us to walk in step with Him in this initiative.

We know that such training will contribute to the health of Christ’s church, the salvation and discipling of many children, and the accomplishment of God’s Kingdom plans.

Please pray with me that God will help us faithfully initiate this program – another small, but significant step in Kingdom building. Your investments in Northwest form part of this divine planning and enabling.

When we live and serve “under God’s mighty hand” we know “his power is at work in us” (Eph. 3:20).

Church — An Adaptable Community

Church communities live with the tension between operating current ministries with excellence and the need to keep adapting those ministries to meet and survive future challenges. For forty years I have observed this tension play out as ministry trends come and go and churches struggle to find their bearings in the midst of this change. Discerning leaders help churches weather these challenges well, but sometimes leaders fail to recognize what is happening and churches slowly die or break apart.

I discovered recently that of the original Forbes 100 companies identified in 1917 only 13 have remained as independent entities. But among these only General Electric has performed with excellence relative to its peers. This is a very sobering statistic. The churches that now are identified as Fellowship Baptists emerged as a distinctive group in British Columbia in 1927. There were 16 churches in that original group, as best as I can determine. Of those churches perhaps half still continue to minister in some form. Perhaps one or two continue to do so with excellence. Of course this is a rough estimate, but it does serve to indicate that churches struggle both to minister effectively today and also to figure out how to adapt to tomorrow.

Three essential dynamics probably contribute to this situation. First, a strong focus on good execution of ministry plans often limits the ability of a church to adapt. The leadership concentrates upon and is committed to working the plan, and in the process they unwittingly become resistant to necessary adaptive change. The church needs to learn how to be ambidexterous, executing current plans well, but constantly innovating. It is tough to be do both well. The result is that some churches sustain good ministry for a certain time, but then begin to diminish because they fail to innovate. In the business world (recognizing that there are significant differences) some studies show that less that 1% of companies are able to maintain top performance over a fifty year period. My experience would suggest that this is probably similar in the case of churches.

A second dynamic is that churches tend to work with a bias towards overoptimism. We invest heavily in developing and executing current plans, with the result that we come to believe that they will always deliver the results we desire. Change becomes less urgent because we believe that the current plan will accomplish everything necessary. And so we become ‘set in our ways’ of ministry. Our models of ministry become rigid and we resist adaptation. Inertia exercises immense influence, often to our detriment.

The third dynamic relates to “complexity catastrophe.” The longer an organization exists and the larger it gets, the more complex it becomes. Various segments of the organization become interdependent. To change one aspect means changing the others and so conficts emerge. Positive change becomes more and more difficult to implement. Gridlock occurs and at some point, whether because of some external change or internal conflict, catastrophe envelopes the organization. Perhaps we see this being played out with entities such as General Motors today. Now most churches are not large. However, our communities, once they grow beyond two hundred people and are working with multiple staff, do become complex. As size and complexity increase, we spend more energy enabling the organization to operate well and this in turn limits our ability to adapt.

To respond to these challenges, church leaders should consider ways to reduce hierarchy, empower people to act, and stimulate diversity, in other words to build the church’s capacity to be responsive by the way it works as a community. Some leaders believe that the only way to get things done is to operate with a hierarchical structure. However, it is quite possible to work with shared purpose, high levels of trust, and impressive productivity within flat organizational relationships. High accountability is possible with low oversight. Empowering people to lead and act motivates them to achieve beyond expectations, but this does not mean accountability is diminished or absent. Perhaps we need to believe that “good ideas can come from anywhere,” not just from the lead pastor or the ministry staff.

Where in your church community are you enabling and encouraging the creation of ministry experiments that enable you to evaluate growth opportunities? We need to be willing to fail in small experiments so that we learn how to succeed in the big things. I know that Revelation 2-3 tell us that churches grow or fail for various reasons and that foundational to it all is the spiritual condition of the people. However, spirituality includes a wisdom to discern how to adapt and keep our ministries vital and responsive to changing conditions.

Defining Success

“Success” is one of those wonderful contemporary words that everyone bends to their own service. We use it to judge others and when it is convenient, we grab hold of it to bolster our own sense of worth and accomplishment. Within Northwest our Board recently has chosen the Carver Policy Governance model to organize and discipline their work. Basic to this model are three questions that the Board in exercising its leadership must continually ask about the Seminary – what outcomes, for whose benefit, at what cost? As it answers these questions, it seeks to define whether the Seminary is being successful in achieving its mission and vision.

As President, I am always wondering about our “success”. Are we developing enough good ministry leaders, are we doing it with excellence, are we making a difference in and for the Kingdom, are we investing our resources in the right way so that we are accomplishing our ends? What makes this so challenging is that my success as President is constantly dependent on the success of others. The Board holds me accountable for the success of the Seminary, but I am always delegating to others the means by which that success must occur. Of course, I am not entirely without recourse to facilitate this success.

Our success as a Seminary depends upon people – board members, faculty, staff, supporters, students, networked leaders. When each person achieves success in their personal lives and in their Seminary roles, then the Seminary succeeds. What I thank God for is the high degree of success that people in these various roles consistently achieve.

  • board members speak with Spirit-led discernment;
  • faculty teach and publish with incredible competence;
  • staff work with deep commitment to quality and mission;
  • students develop in ways we never imagined;
  • supporters in their stewardship contribute beyond our expectations;
  • leaders in our larger networks demonstrate godly, creative leadership that enables our Seminary to flourish.

But for each of these individuals to contribute to Northwest’s success, God must be involved too. Our Christian understanding persuades us that God generates any success that Northwest may enjoy through his very personal, individual work to create success in the life of each individual within our community.  As President I have to put a lot of faith in the people around me, but especially in God Himself. I am only able to guide Northwest to success as all of these various people, assisted by God, are themselves successful. To be President is to be in a wonderful place of grateful, daily dependence.

Was 2008 a successful year for Northwest?

  • We directly impacted 22 churches through Best Practice Workshops for Church Boards and Church Mission Committees.
  • We worked with 70 different students within Northwest and another 300 students in the larger ACTS community.
  • We provided financial aid to 49 different students.
  • We placed about 8 new ministry leaders in our churches.
  • We essentially balanced our budget.
  • Our faculty submitted, read or published 10 articles/papers, prepared two book-length manuscripts, advised and examined theses, taught, consulted, and preached in many churches, and provided mentoring for our students.
  • We redeveloped our relationship with the Fellowship Ministry Centre, creating the Fellowship Leadership Development Centre, led by Dr. Schrag.
  • We implemented The Journey: A Graduate Christian Leadership Development Centre located in Edmonton.
  • The Board adopted the Carver Policy Governance model.

I am sure there are many other advances I could mention. These lead me to conclude that we were successful.

The success of one year, however, does not guarantee the success of a new year. So Northwest’s work begins a fresh cycle in January, as we pray, plan and work together to forge another successful year in Northwest’s significant history of ministry among our churches. I look forward to discerning the hand of God in this success and how He will incorporate your life and service into this success.

For those of you located in the Langley area, I have extended an invitation to join with us February 13, 2009 and consider “The State of the Seminary.” You should be receiving that in the mail shortly, and I trust you will be able to join us. If you live outside of this area, but will be visiting during that period, please let me know so that we can include in this evening of celebration and prayer.

Septuagint Studies and Evangelicalism – Using the Bible Paul Used

The study of the Septuagint in Canada during this past century has occurred primarily in the graduate departments of selected Universities, primarily the University of Toronto. The same reality marks the majority of Septuagint Studies that occur in the United States, Great Britain and Europe. Few, if any Evangelical Seminaries have considered Septuagint Studies sufficiently significant to provide scarce resources for its support. Yet, strangely in the case of the University of Toronto Ph.D. in Septuagint Program, many of the participants were Evangelicals.

Is there a compelling case to be made for Septuagint Studies in Canada to find a home in an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School? In Canada the major scholars in Septuagint Studies were at the University of Toronto, but they have retired and there do not seem to be plans to replace them. Is it possible this gap to be filled by an Evangelical Seminary or Graduate School of Theology? If so, what should Septuagint Studies look like in such a context for it to contribute meaningfully to the mission achievement of such an institution?

Historically Septuagint Studies at the University of Toronto focused primarily upon textual, historical, linguistic and hermeneutical issues. Cognate disciplines of Hebrew language and literature, Hellenistic history, secondary translation languages (Syriac, Coptic, Latin, Armenian, etc.) have also been associated with such studies as necessary competencies.

When we consider locating Septuagint Studies in the context of an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School, what would Septuagint Studies look like? If its focus should change, would it still legitimately be considered by the academy as Septuagint Studies? What shifts could or should occur in Septuagint Studies so that it reflects the particular values or educational outcomes that characterize an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School? Educational programs are developed and implemented because of mission compatibility and a sense that the time is right for such educational processes. How then might Septuagint Studies be conceived in an Evangelical Seminary environment so that a compelling case can be made that such studies are necessary and timely?

What is "Septuagint Studies"? It comprises the cluster of disciplines, competencies, and cognate materials that enable us to understand the origins, transmission, development, usage and influence (both Jewish and Christian) of the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament (probably located in Ptolemaic Alexandria and initiated around 280 B.C.) and its revisions, as well as its relation to other, later Greek translations of the Old Testament (i.e. Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, etc.). The Septuagint represents the first major translation project of a religious text in human history. As sacred text it served the needs of the Greek-speaking Jewish Diaspora in the three centuries prior to Jesus and concurrently with him. As the Christian church emerged from within Judaism, its expansion very early in its history into the Greco-Roman world required the use of the Septuagint as the sacred text to support its message. As the Christian church developed its own sacred text, we find these writings modeling and incorporating materials from the Septuagint and being combined with this Greek form of the Jewish Canon. This Greek translation of the Old Testament was linked with the emerging New Testament to form the Bible used by the Church during the first several centuries of its history and formed the basis for secondary translations used to support significant missionary ventures (Old Latin, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, some Syriac materials, etc.). Because the first segments of this Greek translation seem to arise at the beginning of the third century B.C., it forms a unique witness to the state of Hebrew Scriptures at that period and the hermeneutical principles and interpretation of those scriptures by Jews in Alexandria. For this reason it plays a significant role in understanding the textual development of the Hebrew Old Testament.

The role of the Septuagint for the historical development of Jewish and Christian sacred texts remains significant. Evangelicals have a serious interest in understanding all aspects of biblical text development, transmission and interpretation because of their faith commitments related to the authority and use of biblical materials to inform spiritual life. We are a people of ‘the book’. It is in our interests to understand, include and nurture within our research, teaching, and ecclesial life a deep appreciation for the Septuagint. The issues such study raises continue to challenge the Evangelical world. As well such study will bring greater opportunity for understanding other streams within the broader Christian tradition, namely the Orthodox tradition because significant parts of this tradition continue to use the Septuagint as their Scripture in liturgy and spiritual life.

  • For Septuagint Studies that are conducted within an Evangelical Seminary to retain the respect of the academy, certain knowledge and skills must be taught and developed. Since such Studies are textually based, but deal with translation literature, there is need for the textual domain to remain a central part of Septuagint Studies.
    1. This is advantageous for the Evangelical Seminary because of its commitment to Scripture as established canonical text. For those committed to the authority of Scripture insuring that such Scripture are correctly transmitted, translated and interpreted remains a central value.
    2. Septuagint Studies bridge the Old and New Testaments and in the Evangelical Seminary both Testaments are esteemed. As well their respective influence and relationship is a critical question. Because canonical issues are surfacing in new ways and the boundaries of the sacred text within Christian circles are debated, the influence of Septuagint upon Christian practice and thought remains critical.
    3. The principles of textual criticism used within the setting of Septuagint Studies in most instances are the same as those used within New Testament Studies. As students hone such skills in Septuagint Studies, they are easily transferred to the textual issues of New Testament Studies.
    4. Hermeneutics has occupied a central place in theological and biblical studies for over a century. The discussion shows no sign of diminishing. Septuagint Studies raise central hermeneutical questions. For example, as the New Testament references Old Testament materials through the Septuagint, what does this mean hermeneutically? If the hermeneutics employed in the New Testament reflect Jewish practices and the Septuagint is a Jewish document reflecting the translation and interpretation of Jewish sacred text, then we have much to learn from Septuagint Studies that can inform New Testament hermeneutics, particularly the Jewish aspects of New Testament hermeneutics.

In these ways the traditional aspects of Septuagint Studies can inform and significantly assist biblical studies within the Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School.

  • The Second Temple Period of Judaism holds great significance for understanding Christian origins. This period when the Old Testament materials were achieving their final form and Judaism was emerging under the shadow of the Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires forms the context for life in first century Palestine. The Septuagint comprises one of our major sources for understanding Jewish thought during this period, particularly in the Egyptian Diaspora. The occurrence of Septuagint and other Greek materials among the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrates that this translation was used in Palestine. By the time Jesus was born, Palestine had experienced Hellenistic culture for over three hundred years and Roman supremacy had rule for half a century.
  • The Evangelical Seminary’s primary mission is to develop good ministry leaders. Broadly conceived, such training will engage in some way the questions raised in section 1. But what other elements of Septuagint Studies would support such a mission?
    1. The vast majority of Evangelical Christians access their sacred scriptures through translation. This is different from Islam. Christian ministers have to know how to affirm the authority of God’s Word as it occurs in a translated form. The Septuagint represents the first great experiment in biblical translation. Fundamental principles relating to translation and translation process are raised through its study. We have the opportunity to discern how difficult texts are construed, what strategies are followed to insure consistency, what freedom the translators possessed and what limits they had, how the translation was received, how it was revised, etc. As English translations proliferate, ministry leaders need to understand the theological implications of such work and Septuagint Studies provide an excellent case study.
    2. The majority of preaching today in Evangelical Circles arises from the New Testament. A significant part of this sacred text includes material quoted from the Septuagint. Key passages in Romans, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, the Synoptics and Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, James, just to cite a few, are replete with such quotations. In some cases these Septuagint quotes represent an understanding of the Hebrew text that is quite different from the Hebrew text that we have received. Ministers need to know how to deal with such issues so that the coherence of the canon can be understood.
    3. Worship practices continue to change and develop in Evangelical churches and good ministry leaders will need to understand how liturgy has developed historically. The Septuagint was the Bible of the early church and so significantly shaped the worship practices of the church. As churches explore the ancient-modern worship paradigm, connecting with worship roots that originate in the second and third century church, Septuagint materials become important.
    4. The early church fathers, particularly the Greek-speaking fathers, used the Septuagint as their Bible. Their commentaries, homilies, and letters quote it freely and it forms the foundation for their exposition and direction in matters of faith and practice. As we understand this part of the Church’s life more deeply, we will have a richer context for nurturing the spiritual life of our churches today.
  • Good ministry leaders within the Evangelical Church tradition are characterized by theological astuteness. Critical to this competence are highly developed exegetical skills. These include expertise in the biblical languages and awareness of the way language works.
    1. The issues of semantics, discourse analysis, and rhetorical usage are significant components in New Testament exegesis. Because there is significant overlap in the vocabulary of the New Testament and the Septuagint there are natural linkages between Septuagint Studies and New Testament exegesis.
    2. Various aspects of Septuagint style may also have influenced the form of New Testament materials. The narrative style of Mark and Luke 1-2, the hymns in Luke 1-2, and the vocabulary used in Revelation reflect Septuagint influence. Discerning the meaning of such terms and their possible religious nuance is an important issue.
    3. The Septuagint represents one of the largest bodies of Hellenistic Greek and so for the New Testament provides a significant resource in understanding language.
  • Contextualization remains a current issue. The Septuagint represents a major attempt to contextualize Jewish religious thought. It predates the time of Jesus and so helps us understand some of the ways in which Judaism responded to the pressures of Hellenism through the translation process. Since the majority of the Septuagint seems to be a product of the Diaspora, and Alexandria in particular (Letter To Aristeas), it will reveal various ways in which the Jewish community sought to relate their Jewish faith to their Hellenistic environment.
  • The Bible that Peter, Paul, Luke, Mark, and John1 used primarily was the Septuagint. The more we are familiar with its phrasings, lexica, and interpretive processes, the better we will appreciate and understand their teaching.

Septuagint Studies within the setting of an Evangelical Seminary or Divinity School will build upon the base of textual and historical competency, but use this as a means to explore the salient issues of:

  • Canonical studies
  • Translation – its hermeneutical and theological implications
  • Contextualization issues
  • Jewish-Christian relations
  • Significance and use of Old Testament materials in the New Testament
  • Liturgical history
  • Historical theology – first three centuries of early church thought and its development
  • Understanding the Old Testament as it was interpreted in the three centuries prior to Jesus – setting the scene for Jesus’ ministry
  • Understanding the Bible of Paul and Peter, i.e. the Early Church, and how this enables us to discern the meaning of their respective letters.
  • Understanding Eastern Orthodoxy as part of the Christian tradition, because it continues to use the Septuagint as its Scriptures, regarding it as inspired.

A Seminary or Divinity school setting encourages these inter-disciplinary aspects of Septuagint Studies to be explored and developed in ways that they could not be in a secular University setting. This enrichment of the task and agenda that defines Septuagint Studies would be a significant contribution to Septuagint Studies and the ministry of the Church.

In terms of timing we suggest that Septuagint Studies in Canada are at a crossroads. We are losing the most significant Canadian Centre for Septuagint Studies. Those scholars that have been instrumental in developing Septuagint Studies are eager to see their work continue in Canada. They have offered their libraries to the TWU/ACTS context to support Septuagint Studies if we were to commit to establish a Septuagint Studies graduate program and Institute. Further, there is a vacuum regarding Septuagint Studies in Canada that we can fill and do so in creative and innovative ways.

In the context of the SGS and GSTS of Trinity Western University we have four faculty who have Ph.D. level expertise in Septuagint Studies. This resource represents a unique clustering that exceeds even the level of support that the University of Toronto had to resource their Ph.D. in Septuagint Studies. We are well-positioned in this regard to be the Canadian Centre for Septuagint Studies.

There is another factor of timing that is significant. Through the work of many scholars the project to establish an edited text of the Septuagint is nearing completion. The only major segments of the Greek Old Testament that still lack such texts are Joshua through Chronicles and Psalms through Ecclesiastes. Work is progressing on some of this. So we are at a point in Septuagint Studies when the agenda can shift its focus to consider more intently the impact of this translation on the Jewish and Christian religious communities, as well as the emergence of the Septuagint as a literary artifact.

When we ask the question what Septuagint Studies contributes specifically to our understanding and advancement of the Believers’ Churches and their missions, the responses are complex. As with many aspects found within the curriculum we have designed to develop good ministry leaders within this part of the Evangelical spectrum, the connections emerge primarily because this tradition fits within the general stream of Christian orthodoxy. What Septuagint Studies contribute to our understanding of Jewish-Christian relations, the interpretation of sacred text, and the history of the emerging Church, it also contributes to the Believers’ Churches lodged within general Christian orthodoxy. The better we understand these elements, presumably the better we will understand the nature of the church, its mission, and its message.

Specifically, as we consider the recently revised statement of the Seven Believers’ Church principles that form the theological basis for the ACTS Consortium, Septuagint Studies relates primarily to:

Principle # 5 Belief in a high view of Scripture….the Holy Scriptures alone are fully authoritative and fully trustworthy as the very Word of God written. In Scripture God has given the Church a sufficient guide and final authority for all Christian teaching and practice.

In the Consortium agreement this gets translated into a statement of purpose that includes:

    • to uphold the Bible, as originally written, as the inerrant, infallible Word of God and to produce graduates thoroughly knowledgeable in the Word and competent in understanding, expounding, applying and communicating it.

As we have sought to outline in the paper, Septuagint Studies contribute substantially to achieving this part of our stated purpose. We seek to discern what Scriptures as originally written say and Septuagint Studies play an integral role in discerning this. Further if graduates are to be thoroughly knowledgeable in the Word, then some awareness and understanding of Septuagint Studies, particularly the dynamics of translation and its impact on interpretation must be part of this understanding. Finally, we emphasize the ability to understand and expound it (i.e. the Bible), as desired competencies and this requires some awareness of the Septuagint, particularly in terms of the New Testament implications.

There is a second area of purpose that Septuagint Studies will assist, namely:

    • to prepare ministry leaders and indeed the whole people of God to understand and address competently the Canadian and global cultural mosaics and to have a transforming impact on them through the Gospel.

As we have tried to express in this paper, Septuagint Studies in essence is a study in religious contextualization. The cultural diversity of the Hellenistic era in which Jewish and Christian people lived required careful and thoughtful response to relationship of their religious beliefs to the dominate cultures of their day. These issues remain for the church a significant challenge and Septuagint Studies provide many good examples of strategies employed to deal with such questions.

Finally, a specific purpose for the Consortium is:

    • to produce leaders….who are able to work cooperatively with fellow believers in other denominations to the glory of God and the building of the church of Jesus Christ.

The Believers’ Church tradition has not had much experience in relating to Eastern Orthodox traditions. However, with the increased movement of peoples around the world and the entry of much of Eastern Europe into the European Union, we will have to understand these traditions more adequately. Since their religious traditions build upon the Septuagint, the more we understand this part of our Christian heritage, the better we will be able to appreciate and understand the specific concerns of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.


  • 1To what extent Jesus had access to and used Septuagint materials is a vexed question.

Keeping Your Mission On Track

So much is happening in our world these days that I find it hard to keep track of it all. Significant changes are happening in the leadership of the United States. The business and financial worlds continue to experience turmoil. Leadership among our seminary partners in ACTS is changing, as well as leadership within the ACTS Consortium. Discerning the implications of these things for our personal lives, as well as our church communities, families or businesses becomes challenging.

Keeping Northwest’s mission on track when times are turbulent and chaotic, when the future seems less clear than it did six months ago, requires wisdom, courage, and significant intentionality. I am sure you experience the same constraints as you are re-calibrating your own personal budgets, travel plans, business ventures, or investment strategies. My faith in Jesus Christ and confidence that God’s Spirit is with me, however, gives me assurance to press forward. In spite of the changes in the world around me, Jesus’ word remains central – “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). That remains the main thing.

When I translate all of this into the context of my leadership within Northwest, it requires me to ask once again this question – why does Northwest exist and what difference is it making for God in our world? Discerning the answers to these questions enables me as President to find joy in my calling and keep focused, patiently persistent, and significantly encouraged.

The more turbulent our times become, Northwest’s work to equip effective Kingdom leaders gains importance. Churches need passionate, competent, caring, godly leaders.

  • Brian Reagh, a recent graduate began his work as lead pastor at Ruth Morton Baptist Church at the end of October.
  • Tim Durksen, having finished his youth pastoral training program began as Youth Pastor at Sardis Baptist Church in September.
  • Robin Martens is the associate pastor of Discipleship at Campbell River Baptist Church.
  • Brian Pankratz is planting a new church in Burnaby.
  • Three Fellowship Baptist Church boards participated in the Best Practices for Church Boards Workshop at the beginning of November, discerning ways to lead more excellently within their churches.
  • Current Fellowship pastors (and those from other denominations) participated in a week-long Doctor of Ministry course entitled “Spiritual Leadership in the New Testament”, deepening their own understanding of Kingdom leadership.
  • Current students, like David Yeo at Northwest Langley Baptist, or Rob Schweyer at Maple Ridge Baptist, or Paul Truman at Fellowship Baptist in Kimberly, are deeply engaged in pastoral ministries within their churches.

Are we making a difference? Absolutely! New leader by new leader, one by one, our current students and graduates bring the Gospel of Jesus and the powerful presence of God’s Spirit into their communities.

Are these leaders enough? Absolutely not! We must press forward. The work of God’s Kingdom isn’t finished. So we must keep on task. Jesus is holding us accountable. His body needs more trained leaders than ever before.

Your involvement in this work becomes more critical, not less. We know that the message of Jesus changes lives and restores relationship with God. As the Spirit of Jesus takes up residence in people, radical transformation occurs. Your prayers for us, your financial gifts, your wise counsel, your encouragement of those in training – all of this keeps us focused and persistently achieving Northwest’s mission – equipping effective Kingdom leaders. What investment carries greater opportunity for Kingdom advancement?

Thank you for your encouragement. I know that each of you in your own situations is being challenged by the financial chaos. Yet God’s continues to provide for our needs.

There are many different ways that you can help me lead Northwest:

  • Help us connect with people in your church whom you believe have the gifts and calling for ministry leadership.
  • Provide legacy gifts to sustain Northwest’s mission – real estate, bequest by will, making Northwest the owner and beneficiary of a life insurance policy, gifting securities (stocks or bonds), gifts-in-kind. You benefit through the tax receipt, God’s Kingdom benefits as resources are applied to developing Kingdom leaders.
  • Let me know that you are praying for us.

This is my joy and my challenge these days. Thank you for standing with me.

Generating Hope In God

As I sit in my office, the returning and new students create a real buzz of excitement and energy around the Seminary – at least I think it’s the students and not the coffee! Seriously, new semesters always generate significant vitality – new relationships, new encounters with God, new ideas, new ministry opportunities, new hope. A new semester breathes hope that God’s Kingdom work is alive and progressing.

I think Northwest’s essential business is generating hope in God. We accomplish this by equipping kingdom leaders who possess this hope in Jesus personally and know how to share it with others to build communities of hope. So many things that destroy hope happen in our world– war, famine, evil leadership, criminal activity, deceitful relationships, and disease. The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings peace, restores goodness, destroys evil, empowers healthy relationships and eventually promises us a new, resurrected body! So I look forward to Northwest’s sixty-eighth year of hope-generating ministry.

One of the challenges I have as President is to keep Northwest, entering its sixty-eighth year of ministry, fresh and relevant. It is easy to keep doing the same things and using the same methods to equip leaders, but new times require new approaches. This new academic year we are focusing our energies:

  1. to offer more of our leadership development courses on line. This will increase accessibility, dissolving the geographical barriers that prevent many from benefiting;
  2. to revise our primary pastoral training degree so that key pastors can be involved more significantly with us to equip emerging leaders. The co-op model of education is being considered;
  3. to provide more initial ministry leadership development training in the churches.

A new initiative I personally am developing is the workshop entitled “Doing God’s Business: A Theology of Work.” This is offered Friday and Saturday, November 7-8, 2008 at the Fosmark Centre (TWU Campus). You can register for this on our website (right hand column, click on the date November 7-8).

Another significant initiative is being led by Dr. Lyle Schrag, the director of our Fellowship Leadership Centre. He will be working with our students to help them discern more clearly their calling in ministry and helping them to assess their progress towards achieving the goal. You might describe it as a ministry coaching process.

And then, related more to biblical research, we are hosting a major international conference on the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), September 18-20, 2008. A public session (Thursday evening, September 18) will be held in the Northwest Auditorium (TWU Campus), beginning at 7:30pm. There will be good music, along with several presentations related to the Septuagint Institute and its significance, as well as presentations by the general editors of the New English Translation of the Septuagint, published by Oxford University Press. I personally contributed the translation of Exodus in this volume.

I would encourage you take a look at our website and make use of the resources that are there. Dr. Schrag’s notes on church leadership, Mark Naylor’s contributions about cross-cultural ministry challenges, the frequent blogs about many aspects of Christian life, and the biblical and preaching resources are helpful.

As the summer gently shifts into the autumn season, I trust that you will be energized in your relationship with Jesus. Perhaps now is the time to take action and refresh your walk with God. Courses or workshops can be a stimulating way to engage this.

Ministry Talk: Reflections on “The Shack”

William Young writes an interesting novel (as the title page describes this book) — and we have to remember that The Shack is a novel! According to the foreword Young is telling the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips and his encounter with God at “the shack”, the place where Phillip’s youngest daughter was murdered. Young recounts how ‘the great sadness’ that overwhelmed Phillips after the kidnapping and death of his daughter was removed through this encounter with God.

Theology finds expression in this novelistic narrative in ways that suit the postmodern perspective. As the story unfolds, the reader is led skillfully to reconsider the very nature of God in the context of such a tragic circumstance. Young emphasizes the Trinitarian essence of God and the primary element of love that defines God’s inner relationships. Some might find his characterizations of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit somewhat unusual, but Young is not deliberately sacrilegious and always treats God with respect in this novel. His description of the human Jesus and his assertion that Jesus was totally dependent upon the Spirit (pages 99-100) for any miraculous power he displayed will raise some eyebrows. Jesus’ description of his intimacy with God and sharing of understanding and power in John’s Gospel and Matthew 11:25-26 suggest that Young’s description is somewhat inadequate. And what do we do with the Transfiguration?

Personally I think that Young’s portrayal of Jesus in the story (apart perhaps from some elements in chapter 15 entitled “A Festival of Friends”) fails to show him as the ascended and reigning Lord. Jesus is friend, companion, and saviour, eagerly wanting a relationship with each human being, but his Lordship seems strangely muted.

In my view, Young is at his best in the narrative when Phillips engages one of the members of the Godhead in conversation about a difficult theological issue. Why did God let Phillips’ daughter die in such an evil way? If we blame God for these kinds of events, are we in effect judging God?  What kind of relationship does God want to have with human beings and how does Jesus’ death on the Cross enable this restored relationship to become a reality?  How does human freedom work in connection with divine sovereignty? How does God want us to live as his saved people? What does holiness look like? The dialogues explore these theological nooks and crannies, providing helpful perspectives.

We cannot expect a book, especially a novel, to deal with every significant question or the writer’s selected questions equally well. Young’s novel is no exception. He focuses on some very critical issues. However, we are left wondering somewhat about the relationship of a Jesus follower to the local church. Is the local church too much a part of ‘religion’ to be of any significant help for someone in Phillips’ situation? This seems to be a conclusion, whether intended or not. Perhaps the central focus on relationships is the way that Young seeks to define how a believer finds sense and meaning as part of a local assembly. As well, sin and evil are certainly key components in the narrative, but we have no discussion about Satan or his role in the events described. Young makes the point that God is not responsible for evil, because human beings are independent agents. And God is able to bring good out of evil. But where is Satan in this mix?

And then there is the continuous emphasis upon emotions – not unexpected given the subject matter.

Young’s novel deserves a read, but one that is critical (in the best sense of that term) and discerning. Bad things do happen to good people and resolving this question within a Christian frame continues to require the very best of our thinking, a robust theology, and a deep relationship with God.

Leadership Next – What has to Change in Ministry Leadership?

Eddie Gibbs writes with passion and insight as he seeks to answer the question: what kind of leaders does the church in the 21st century require in order to carry forward the mission Jesus gave it? LeadershipNext. Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture assumes that the missional church perspective represents the direction that the Western Church needs to take if it desires to recover and truly incarnate Christ’s kingdom mission today. However, for the church to implement this missional theology requires a new kind of ministry leader. Gibbs presents his ideas with clarity, using numerous illustrations and wit.

The recovery of a missional theology coincides with the cultural shift from modernism to postmodernism. Church leadership as practiced within a modernist culture tends in Gibbs’ view to be controlling, practiced solo, and essentially transactional, bent on keeping the corporate church operating. Individuals under thirty-five and whose values are shaped by postmodernism aspire to serve with leaders who consider team to be the essential leadership mode, with emphasis on relationship, connecting, and empowering. This new, postmodern generation will not work with the prevailing style of leadership shaped by modernism. This is as true in the corporate world as it is in the church. As the subtitle to his book indicates, Gibbs believes that the church must develop new leaders who embrace new ways of exercising influence for Christ in a changing culture. Repeatedly he argues that “yesterday’s styles of leadership will not be adequate for the opening decades of the twenty-first century” (34).

Although his first chapter is entitled “Redefining Leadership”, Gibbs never offers his own definition of leadership. Rather, he works his way selectively through the definitions offered by others (i.e. Robert Clinton, Walter Wright, Robert Banks and Bernice Ledbetter, and James Kouzes and Barry Posner), embracing a common thread that sees leadership as the exercise of influence within a relational matrix. The ideas of Roger Greenleaf regarding servant leadership are particularly considered. This discussion occurs against the background of change that postmodernism is generating within Western culture. And this leads Gibbs to reject models of leadership that are dominating and hierarchical, based upon status and the exercise of power. Such a mode of leadership conflicts both with the scriptural warrant, in his view, as well as with the emerging postmodern culture. He considers character, charisma and competence important, but character must take first place.

The first chapter ends with a list of seven “leadership challenges” (38-45) that the church must face.

  1. Beyond preserving the inherited institutions: leading a mission-focused community of disciples;
  2. Beyond ideology-driven evangelism: leading a values-based community of disciples;
  3. Beyond dispensing information: seeking spiritual formation rooted in Scripture;
  4. Beyond the controlling hierarchy: leading empowered networks of Christ followers;
  5. Beyond the weekly gathering: building teams engaged in ongoing mission;
  6. Beyond a gospel of personal self-realization: a service-oriented faith community;
  7. Beyond the inwardly focused church: leading a society-transforming community of disciples.

Who can argue with these ideals? Undoubtedly we can find examples of faith communities that exhibit these limiting, negative behaviours. However, it is also the case that many church communities in the era of modernism were mission-focused, embraced a relational method of evangelism, pursued spiritual formation that was rooted in Scripture, etc. I wonder whether we can draw the lines as clearly as Gibbs would suggest. The way in which church leaders in the modern era responded within that cultural setting may have been exactly appropriate. After all such leaders were seeking to express the Gospel and lead the church in ways that were culturally relevant to the prevailing modernist philosophy. Gibbs is right to emphasize that the cultural shift to postmodernism means that the leadership styles and approaches that were suited to life within modernism will not be suitable for life in postmodernism. Whether he has identified correctly what needs to change is another question.

We need “different kinds of leaders” according to Gibbs (47). The transformations globally we currently experience require this. Gibbs emphasizes the chaotic conditions and suggests that they provide opportunity as well as require us to risk new ways of leading. Religious pluralism, increased complexity, information explosion, new means of communication – they all generate the need for a different kind of leadership. I wonder whether church leaders felt similar angst in the early twentieth century, with the explosion in technological development, the havoc caused by the First World War, and the economic complexities generated by The Great Depression. In the midst of these significant changes Church leaders had to learn afresh the best ways to live out the Great Commission, to make disciples, and to make decisions under pressure. In these circumstances ministry leaders had to communicate, debate and negotiate (96). People then as now wanted to be treated with dignity and respect. Relationships and trust were as integral to organizational life and nurture then, as they are now. People desired authentic community then, but perhaps defined and expressed it differently. Yes, change happens and continues to happen. This requires modes of leadership to adjust as well. However, I suspect that many of the fundamental issues remain the same; however changing cultural values create expectations for different modes and manners of response. I think Gibbs inherently knows this because he keeps using examples of leadership in Scripture to ground many of his key arguments. However, I do not think he would argue that the cultural contexts in which these leaders functioned were similar to the current postmodern situation.

I think one of Gibbs’ best chapters is devoted to the concept of team-building leadership. New emerging leaders seem to gravitate towards and work well within a team-building style of leadership. In Gibbs view this is more compatible with the postmodern cultural context. However, leading effectively through a team context requires considerable skill, particularly the ability to serve as leader and follower concurrently, as well as dealing with diversity. Gibbs suggests that the primary leader in a team context operates like a coach, nurturing the team so that it accomplishes much more together than it could as separate individuals. The impact of the sum will be much greater than that of the individual parts. Gibbs draws on the analogy of the Trinity to suggest how such a team functions harmoniously to provide ‘leadership’. He builds on Cladis’ reference to the perichoresis, the constant and lively interaction and involvement of the persons of the Trinity within their singular relationship. He mistakenly follows Cladis in thinking that perichoresis signifies dance, a sense the word does not convey. Gibbs identifies some competencies and attitudes that team leaders must possess: lead with questions, not answers; engage in dialogue, not coercion; conduct autopsies without blame; build red-flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored. In this he builds on the work of Jim Collins. He also refers to the concept of ‘connective leaders’ proposed by Jean Lipman-Blumen. Gibbs seeks to build a vision of “leadership next” based on these ideas. “By giving priority to team building the church can move beyond the prevailing culture of hierarchy and control to that of networking and empowerment” (120). I agree that we need to do a better job in the church to help people discern and live out their calling, that ministry teams probably create a better context in which to promote this, and that networking and empowerment are critical elements that enable this kind of community to flourish. Yet, having said this, what at the end of the day is the role of “the ministry leader” in a local church which is designed to operate under this new kind of leader? There must be some framework that empowers the leader, defines responsibility and requires accountability. We may shy away from naming this command and control, but if that ministry leader is being held accountable by a group of elders, then that ministry leader needs to exercise appropriate authority to accomplish the tasks necessary to achieve the church’s vision. In the last chapters of his book Gibbs considers leadership traits, activities, attitudes and costs. He offers good advice for any Christian leader. However, again I question to what degree any of this is new? For example, when you consider the list of leadership traits (character shaped by God, called by God, ability to contextualize, courage forged by faith, competence linked with gifting and experience, creativity, compassion, confidence (128ff)), how does this list differ from the traits a “modern” ministry leader must emulate? In terms of leadership activities is it only the young “genial mavericks” that have creative new ideas? What happens when a leader hits fifty – does all of hope of any new creative idea suddenly vanish? Acts 2 does promise through the Spirit that “your old men will dream dreams.”

Gibbs says that “clergy means ‘called’ (kleros), with the unspoken implication that the laity is not chosen or called by the Lord” (132). I would suggest that he is somewhat misleading here. kleros signifies primarily an object used in casting lots for the purpose of decision-making, or a portion or share, something assigned as a person’s allotment.1 In the Gospels and Acts it describes the casting of lots to determine which soldier would get Jesus’ garment (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24) and which follower of Jesus would replace Judas as apostle (Acts 1:17-26). Peter tells Simon Magus that he has “no part or share (kleros) in this ministry” (Acts 8:21). Paul confesses that during his Damascus road vision Jesus revealed to Paul that his apostleship would give to the Gentiles “a place (kleros) among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). The notion of ‘inheritance’ seems to be suggested by Paul’s use in Colossians 1:12. Peter used the word once in 1 Peter 5:3 to describe the “portion” of God’s people over which the elders were given spiritual direction. The cognate verb occurs once in Ephesians 1:11. In that context the concept of inheritance once again probably is most appropriate, with the sense of “obtaining or acquiring a portion or share”. It is rendered in the King James Version as “in whom we have obtained an inheritance”, but the New International Version rendered it as “in him we were also chosen,” a very different sense. It could also be rendered “in whom we have our destiny,” i.e. “in whom our lot is cast.” The English term ‘clergy’ reflects more the sense of a person who has been assigned responsibility over a kleros, a portion.2 While Gibbs general point is correct, his attempt to base his perspective on the New Testament term kleros unfortunately appears to be somewhat misguided.

His final chapter is entitled “Leadership Emergence and Development.” Here we hope to find Gibbs prescription for ministry leadership development. His key idea is that ministry leaders must be trained essentially as missionaries, people able to “operate in crosscultural settings, frequently on the margins of society” (197). He refers to a Church of England study entitled “Mission-shaped Church” which argues similarly. A strong lament about the high drop out rate from ministry of Bible College and Seminary graduates follows. However, he does not comment on the drop out rate from ministry of those trained in other methods. Perhaps it is higher. There is a hidden assumption here. Also, does crosscultural training guarantee ministry success? The return rate of missionaries would suggest not.

For all that, Gibbs’ suggestion deserves careful thought. What a missional focus as the framework for ministry leadership development should ensure is the acquisition of cognitive, spiritual-moral and practical obedience. Perhaps the use of more problem-solving learning processes, more intentional linkages with a specific ministry context, and carefully led, mentored reflection on these elements would provide more effective ministry leaders for the 21st century. One might further ask how Gibbs’ emphasis on team-based leadership would be advanced through missionary training? Is there anything inherent in missionary development that requires team-based leadership? Perhaps in the new, emerging models of crosscultural leadership development and practice that is the case, but historically it is not immediately evident.


  • 1F.W.Danker, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature . Third Edition (BDAG) (Chicago, ILL: University of Chicago Press, 2000): 548.
  • 2See the entry under ‘cleric’ in the Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Volume 1 (Oxford University Press, 1971): 491-492.

Nova – New Things

Relationships require good communication, if they are going to flourish. Over the years you have demonstrated a deep commitment to the ministry of Northwest Baptist Seminary and I count you as one of our significant ministry friends. Yet friends need to be connecting in order to keep the relationship warm and flourishing.

I am initiating NOVA, a bi-monthly, informal communiqué from the Northwest President, to deepen your relationship with the Seminary. It is my hope that this will help you to keep more informed about the progress of our mission, the challenges for which we need prayer, and the contributions of our students, faculty and alumni to Kingdom advancement. You need to know how your investments in our vision are multiplying our capacity to develop effective Kingdom leaders and grow healthy churches.

The word ‘nova’ is a Latin expression meaning “new things.” One of the new things we started this June enabled emerging Christian leaders to explore the relationship between a Christian’s spiritual life and the marketplace. Does a believer’s occupational work have any value? Do the 80,000 hours the average person spends ‘at work’ contribute to God’s mission in the world? Or is it only the 4500 hours a believer spends ‘in church’ which have eternal significance?

Northwest received a major grant to offer a series of courses and workshops around The Theology of Work. Our desire is to help average Christians see themselves as God’s kingdom agents in their places of work, as well as discern the value of their work as opportunity to exercise stewardship and to be creative, active and effective for God’s glory and human good.

You might be interested to participate in the workshop scheduled for Friday evening and Saturday, November 7-8, 2008 in Langley and again March 27-28, 2009 in Victoria. A good number of the seats in the seminar will be subsidized through the grant so cost will be minimal. You can register through our website ( after August 1, 2008.

During this summer I am working with our new Board chair, Larry Nelson, to bring to successful conclusion the Making a Difference Campaign.  $126,000 will enable us to reach our target and resource several new and exciting leadership development projects. Please be in prayer that God will enable us to complete this campaign.

This time of year also connects us with people wondering whether God is calling them into specific ministry leadership. Perhaps you know of someone who should be moving in this direction. Would you let me know about them so that I could connect with them and share how Northwest might assist them? Who knows what the Kingdom impact might be? Give me a call or send me an email.

Thanks for taking a moment to refresh your awareness of Northwest’s influence in God’s Kingdom. And thank you for your stewardship in our ministry.

Are there hip replacements for limping leaders?

Leading With A LimpDan Allender has provided a provocative look at several serious aspects of ministry leadership in his book “Leading with a Limp.” He writes primarily out of his experience as the founder of Mars Hill Graduate School located near Seattle. His thesis is clear: “to the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues” (p.2). He then proceeds to discuss common, unhealthy responses to the challenges of leadership and urges ministry leaders to replace them with more effective responses — courage, depth, gratitude, openness and hope. The leadership challenges he identifies are crisis, complexity, betrayal, loneliness and weariness. The phrase “reluctant leader” seems to capture for him essential aspects of a healthy leadership perspective. Any ministry leader would gain considerable benefit from reading and reflecting on Allender’s ideas.

Allender helps us map the interior contours of Christian leadership, a kind of psychology of leadership, incorporating a realism about a leader’s limitations and dependence. Depravity works wondrously well even in the world of Christian leaders. The story of Jacob’s midnight wrestling match with God and his resulting disability — his limp — provides the overarching metaphor for Allender’s presentation. What struck me, however, was the silence regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in restoring, enabling, and guiding Christian leaders to walk with their limp in God-honouring ways. The result is a rather dark view of Christian leadership, lived in a hostile, dangerous and debilitating context. Periods of joy, satisfaction, thankfulness and redemptive accomplishment seem very rare or extremely intermittent. Allender is right to urge leaders to name their failures and walk with humility, but there is another side to this picture. We do lead as Christians in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Surely this awesome reality makes a difference. Does God ever provide “a hip replacement” and enable us to walk “normally”?

Allender rightly points to examples in Scripture of reluctant leaders — Moses, Jeremiah, etc. Yet, there are also many examples of people–Joseph, Joshua, Samuel, Nehemiah, Daniel, Mary, Paul– who embrace God’s calling, fearfully but willingly. . God’s entry into their lives is surprising and filled with change, but I am not sure from the information Scripture gives us that these people were reluctant leaders. We seem to have various responses to the leadership challenge in Scripture. I wonder how Peter’s encouragement for ministry leaders (1 Peter 5:1-4) fits into this idea of “reluctant leader”?

I found it hard to locate the faith community in the picture of ministry leadership that Allender presents. The community seems to be primarily a hostile place, the place where leaders are undone rather than the Kingdom context where God’s power and love triumphs. Undoubtedly Allender writes out of personal experience and many Christian leaders, unfortunately, would have to agree that churches often fail to live up to God’s ideal for his people. Yet, for every bad leadership experience, one could probably name a good church leadership experience. What Allender does help us realize is that naivete is not helpful. Faith communities can be places of devastating animosity for leaders, but they can also be contexts of wonderful support, love and encouragement. To lead with suspicion may not be the best stance. If Christ “loved the church and gave himself for it”, then some of this perspective must also guide our embrace of ministry leadership. Leadership is fundamentally relational. Ministry leaders are given a trust by the people of God to live and lead within the faith community. How does 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 get lived out in Allender’s perception of ministry leadership?

Allender begins by acknowledging that leadership is something for all of God’s people — every disciple is a leader. However, his focus quickly shifts to what he terms “formal leadership”, by which he means a specific leadership role in terms of organizational leadership in church, seminary, non-profit business, etc. Does the leadership model he presents then apply to all followers of Jesus? I think he probably would agree to this, but this is not his focus. But what difference does it make for a ministry leader to see himself as a “limping leader” serving in the midst of a host of “limping leaders”? One of his recurrent emphases is Paul’s confession that he is “the chief of sinners” and the importance for leaders to own this reality for themselves. Again, there is no argument against this reality. But here again the leader operates in a context where all, as disciples of Christ, are leaders and “chief sinners”. This is not a category exclusive to the formal leader. It is the reality in which all disciples live. Perhaps the challenge for the formal leader is to understand how to exercise Kingdom leadership as a “suffering servant” among a group of “chief sinners”.

Every believer is a flawed person. Scripture makes this clear and this is part of our daily confession. However, in Christ we also are “new creations”. This too is an exciting reality. Paul in Galatians urges Christians to “walk/live in the realm of the Spirit” and as we do this “we shall not let the fleshly nature achieve its goals” (Galatians 5:15-16) (my translations). How does this reality fit into the context of Kingdom leadership? We will never lead perfectly and there obviously are times for confession, repentance and restoration in every ministry leader’s experience. But should this be the overwhelming perspective? If a ministry leader is living in submission to the Holy Spirit daily, will the fleshly temptations towards narcissism, fear and addiction gain control? If a ministry leader repeatedly expresses sinful behaviour, does that person have the spiritual maturity to be in a formal leadership role? How do the characteristics and behaviours Paul identifies in 1 Timothy 3 for formal leadership match the paradigm of leadership that Allender proposes? I wonder whether Allender gives too much room for excusing sinful behaviours and fails to give sufficient challenge to pursue the way of the Spriit, the ways of the Kingdom — and the great potential we have to live it.

Taught by God (theodidaktoi – 1 Thessalonians 4:9)

The Psalmist declared “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me” (Psalm 71:17) and he desires that God continually would teach him to do his will (Psalm 143:10). His experience and expectation is that God does instruct him, with the result that he knows God and his ways. While this defines the Psalmist’s relationship with God, it was not true for all in Israel. The prophets yearned for the day when God would restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Sometimes the language borders on the fantastic as they consider how God, using all of his creative power and resources, will fashion Jerusalem from rubies and sapphires. Its walls and buildings will be “sparkling jewels” and “precious stones” (Isaiah 54:11-13). But even more wonderful is that those within its walls will be “taught by the Lord”.

Jeremiah takes this vision a step further. God enables him to foresee a day when God establishes a new covenant with Israel. But it is quite different from the covenant he made at Sinai. Israel did not keep that covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). When this new covenant is implemented “they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (31:34) and no one will have to teach them this knowledge because God “writes it on their hearts” (31:33).

In a first century B.C. document called the Psalms of Solomon, a messianic figure is called “righteous king, taught by God (didaktos hÅ«po theou)” (17:32). Because of these wonderful characteristics this figure is able to restore Israel to the glory God intends. Jesus himself urged his followers to acknowledge only one instructor, the Messiah (Matthew 23:8).

It seems that Paul creates a new word in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 to celebrate the inauguration of God’s new covenant. He commends these new believers for their sincere love for one another. What is perhaps more astonishing is that he attributes this to the fact that “you yourselves are God-taught (theodidaktoi) to love one another” (4:9). There is no evidence that this word existed in Greek before Paul wrote this letter. He creates this word to mark the astonishing change that salvation in Jesus has brought to these people. It has changed fundamentally their ‘place’. When Paul visited Thessalonika, he proclaimed “the gospel of God” (2:8-9) and many in city received it as “the word of God” (2:13). The result is that these followers of Jesus now know “the will of God” because Paul and those with him gave them instructions. They know God, in contrast to “the nations” (4:5). But even more significantly God has “given his Holy Spirit to you” (4:8). All of these actions by God have generated their new status as people who are “God-taught” (theodidaktoi).

The rest of this article is published on Dr. Perkins’ Internet Moments with God’s Word blog site. View it there along with many other similar articles.

“Being Imitators (mimētai) of God”

Paul’s choice of words in his letter to Christians in the province of Galatia reflects careful intention. The issues he confronts are extremely serious, the opponents powerful and persuasive, and his audience somewhat befuddled. Strong warnings mingle with cries of frustration as he encourages these believers to keep running well the discipleship race. He has equally strong words for those unidentified proponents who articulate a “different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7). In the conclusion to his argument Paul tells the Galatian congregations: “Do not err; God is not scorned (muktÄ“rizetai)” (6:7). This is the only place in the New Testament where this verb in its simple form occurs.

The verb muktÄ“rizō and its related compound ekmuktÄ“rizō derive from the noun muktÄ“r, “nose” and have the sense of wrinkling or turning up the nose to demonstrate contempt, scorn, distaste, or ridicule. The idea of mockery or derision is conveyed quite explicitly by various facial expressions, i.e. body language. The nose, for whatever reason, when contorted in certain ways, communicates in many cultures a sense of disagreement based in scorn or contempt. The person finds the message, action or very being of another completely disagreeable and by wrinkling the nose displays this contempt. Of course the reason for this ridicule or contempt needs to be defined. Hellenistic Greek used the noun muktÄ“rismos to describe “sneering” or “derision”.

We discern the contemptuous hostility expressed by the compound form of this verb when Luke uses it to describe the actions of the Jewish rulers towards the crucified Jesus. In his narrative (23:35) these rulers stood watching the proceedings and they “even sneered (exemuktÄ“rizon) at him.”1 The following verse turns our attention to the soldiers and they “mocked (enepaixan) him” (23:36). These two verbs used in parallel define one another to some degree. Luke also used this compound verb (16:14) to describe the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ teaching. When they hear his teaching that a person cannot serve God and ‘mammon’, according to Luke’s narrative, the Pharisees “were sneering (exemuktÄ“rizon) at him” because they “loved money.”

We catch the wider significance of Luke’s choice of terminology when we examine the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). Although both forms of this verb, as well as the noun muktÄ“rismos occur in the Septuagint, the compound verb ekmuktÄ“rizō only occurs in biblical and post-biblical literature. The sense of these terms is discerned when we see them in context. For example, when Elijah is in contest with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, he “mocked (emuktÄ“risen) and said, ‘Call in a loud voice! For he is a god, for prating occupies him and at same time he is perhaps giving an oracle….”2 The sense of ridicule and contempt is clear. When Hezekiah consults the prophet Isaiah about what to do in response to the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, God ridicules the Assyrians through the prophet’s word:
“Virgin daughter Sion made nothing of you and sneered at (emuktÄ“risen) you; daughter of Jerusalem shook her head at you.” (2 Kings 19:21)
The Rabshakeh, the leader of the Assyrian forces had taunted the inhabitants of Jerusalem, ridiculing their ability to resist his armies, but God says in response that Jerusalem will “sneer at” the Assyrians and their claims. That night God slays 85,000 Assyrian soldiers and Sennacherib must retreat in disarray.

The rest of this article is published on Dr. Perkins’ Internet Moments with God’s Word blog site.


  • 1Luke used the imperfect verb form implying a continuous activity.
  • 2New English Translation of the Septuagint.

Alumni: Jim (2006) and Janet (2006) Visbeek

Jim and Janet Visbeek graduated from Northwest/ACTS in April 2006. They both earned the MA in Christian Studies, but Janet’s focus was in Chaplaincy. Dawne, one of their daughters, also graduated in April 2005 with the Master of Counseling degree. Jim is the Managing Director of Cedar Springs Retreat Centre, Sumas, Washington. They have three married children – Dawne, Aaron and Renee.Jim and Janet Visbeek

Jim, what led you and Janet to attend Seminary?

I was managing a large regional electrical and automation distributor in Bellingham, Washington. Every summer, Janet and I with our family attend conferences at Cannon Beach, Oregon. In 2002 the speaker challenged the audience to get off the curb and into the parade with respect to Christian life and ministry. God used that time to speak to me and encouraged me to start thinking about getting more involved in Christian service in some way. Without my knowledge Janet felt the same urging.

That same summer our daughter Dawne graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Counseling. She wanted to take a graduate program in counseling and applied to ACTS. When we shared what we thought God was urging us to do, she told us about ACTS and encouraged us to consider applying to seminary. So we decided to check it out.

We had not set vocational goals, but wanted to be obedient to God’s leading, unsure of how it all would turn out. So we applied to the MA in Christian Studies and were accepted. We wanted to be ready for whatever God might have us do.

Jim, you have been an entrepreneur for most of your adult life. How did you find the fit between your business experience and preparing in seminary for potential ministry leadership? What adjustments were necessary?

Yes, the adjustments were immense. I had to maintain my business throughout my seminary studies in order to support my family. Janet has a passion for Christian history and so she took to the studies naturally. For me, the move from the business context to the graduate classroom required greater energy and transformation. It required a different way of thinking – and writing papers!

Time management became critical. The first semester we both took four courses – we soon discovered that was a plateful! Yet, God enabled us to get through, but we moderated the pace during the ensuing semesters.

In some areas of study I found the relationship between business and ministry leadership quite similar. For example, in business I had to deal with a lot of conflict resolution and in seminary one of my courses dealt with conflict resolution and my internship that same semester involved me in conflict resolution work within a Christian agency. What I discovered was that the spiritual dimensions of conflict resolution in ministry contexts shaped the process and dynamics quite differently from my business experience.

We did the entire program part-time and through it all God marvelously enabled us to balance business, family, church, and seminary. The challenges were great, but God’s grace was sufficient. All five of our family were in college or grad school at the same time, so when we were all together, we would all compare our various studies.

Janet, what led you into chaplaincy?

When I began seminary, I had no inkling that I would select the chaplaincy option. My natural interests were in history and theology. I loved those subjects. In one of my Christian Leadership Development courses, my mentor happened to be a volunteer community support officer for the local 911 call centre. For one of my assignments I shadowed him in this work and discovered that I could minister in situations of personal trauma and death. So I followed this lead and found God opening up a whole new world of ministry opportunity. It was transforming for me.

Since you both were attending seminary together, how did this enrich the experience?

First, we are grateful for the spousal discount that reduced the overall costs substantially. Second, we discovered that our study patterns were quite different, but complementary. The papers we wrote when we took the same courses were very different. However, we could work through questions and issues together. Third, because our learning styles are quite different, we discerned different things in the courses.

After finishing Seminary, how did God lead you into your current roles?

When we graduated, we were still uncertain about the specific ministry situation that God might have for us. Initially we considered various opportunities for pastoral ministry. However, none of these seemed to be the right fit. Several months after graduation God directed us to the position of managing director at Cedar Springs Retreat Centre. As we interviewed for the role, prayed about it and considered our gifting and experience, this role seemed to provide a wonderful opportunity to blend business experience with pastoral ministry. We began serving in this role in Summer 2007. The longer we serve in this position the more it seems that this is what God was preparing us for many years ago.

Janet has the opportunity to work with staff, praying and encouraging them. She is a staff cheerleader, giving people hope. As well, she volunteers three or four twenty-four hour shifts each month as the support officer for the 911 emergency system in our area. This enables her to offer spiritual guidance for people in difficult, often life-threatening situations.

You are now leaders in the Cedar Springs ministry. Tell us about your vision for this ministry.

Cedar Springs desires to nurture Christian character and enrich the church by offering a peaceful, natural environment for adult discipleship. We want to fulfill this mission. And so we hope to expand our ability, for example, to help pastors who need a quiet space for restoration and recovery. Perhaps God will enable us to provide some programs that will strengthen marriages or help with parenting issues. Maybe we could offer some workshops on organizational leadership. We are also able to help fill in on Sundays for pastors in the area that need a break in pulpit supply. We are open to God’s direction here. We know there will be rich possibilities.

As you reflect back on your seminary experience in the context of the Cedar Springs ministry, can you discern general or specific ways in which your education through Northwest/ACTS has assisted you in pursuing God’s call?

In my (Jim) case Seminary enabled me to discern what ministry was all about. I had opportunities in my internship to teach, participate in conflict resolution, plan and initiate ministry projects, preach, etc. As I worked in my business, I would be reflecting on how means and methods of ministry were similar to but different from the business world. It also taught me not to be so judgmental. I do not know everything and I must listen to the views of other believers. When I reflect upon the way God led me in business and through seminary, I can see that He has equipped me in special ways to fill my current ministry position at Cedar Springs.

For me (Janet) Seminary opened up the world of chaplaincy. I probably knew it existed before Seminary, but I had no idea that God had gifted me for this ministry. The need to look at culture compassionately was impressed upon me. People are lost; the products of our culture constantly give voice to the pain of this lostness. There is a lot of hurt being expressed and God gave me through the Seminary the heart and skills to respond to these hurts through chaplaincy. As God transformed me through the Seminary experience, even my children noticed the difference.

Many people think that Seminary education only relates to people who are thinking of becoming pastors or missionaries. Obviously, this is not how God has led you, yet He has given you a very significant ministry. Do you think seminary education has relevance for Christians whose calling lies outside these traditional areas of vocational service?

We did not know how God would use us when we began our Seminary training. What we did know was that it was time to get started and to begin our preparation for whatever God had in mind. Seminary became for us the place to acquire understanding, skills, and spiritual depth so that we could serve wherever God would place us. We had to get up off the curb and into the parade and Seminary provided the best way for us to achieve that.

It has been transformational. I (Jim) remember reading the book Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. He challenged me as I was in my late forties to consider seriously what I was going to do with the last twenty years of my life. I was not satisfied with the status quo and this message energized me to seek God’s direction. Today I am filled with a sense of wonder that God has given us this opportunity at Cedar Springs. We would not be in this role today, unless we had taken those first steps several years ago.

Seminary can be a significant place to discern more clearly how God is directing your path and to be equipped to serve Him as clarity is received.

Church Talk: Discerning New Ministry Leaders

In 2007 Amal Henein and Francoise Morissette published Made in Canada Leadership. Wisdom from the Nation’s Best and Brightest on Leadership Practice and Development. They argue that "in each of us rests the potential for leadership, but the response and measure depend on us….We are all called to lead"(58). They discovered that parental influence and leadership identity are linked. Parents can model what leadership looks like — making it visible for their children.

They also discovered the some "have a passion and disposition for leadership early on", but in contrast some individuals "stumble upon leadership by accident"(61).  Those who enter leadership by accident tend to be reluctant participants,  but, motivated by a desire to serve, they step forward, often when things are in crisis and no one else is willing to do it. The innate leader, however, instinctually grasps leadership opportunities. Over time both kinds of experience result in effective leadership.

What I found surprising is that two thirds of current leaders placed themselves in the accidental category and only one third in the innate group.

I think their results have significant implications for our understanding of ministry leadership development in the church. Every believer is called by God to exercise influence for the Gospel, i.e. to be a leader. The Holy Spirit within us empowers us to grasp and accomplish this leadership. Some will exercise leadership in the church as pastors or missionaries or youth directors. Others will express a quieter leadership, mentoring others one on one, parenting their families, leading a small group, being responsible for maintaining good facilities — there are countless ways.

What we need to grasp is that ‘accidental leaders’ must learn "to see themselves as leaders through others’ eyes first"(64). Someone else has to awaken them to their potential and encourage them to try. "For accidentals the challenge is to turn leadership on"(67). If this dynamic is operative within the church setting, then ministry leaders need to understand this reality. If we only respond to innate leaders, those with a surging creativity to express leadership, then we run the risk of ignoring 66% of the potential, gifted leaders that God has placed within the body of Christ, the accidental leaders.

How then do we create the right conditions so that the majority of people who fit the accidental leader category will have the opportunity to respond to God’s calling in their lives? Plainly we have to help them discern their leadership potential, be encouraged to step out and test their ability, and be there to support them in their first tentative steps. We have to help them "see themselves as leaders."

I would suggest that we have a huge untapped resource of potential leadership capacity in our churches because we are quite unaware of the accidental/innate leadership distinction. What could you do within your sphere of ministry leadership to help accidental leaders emerge and discover their potential?

God’s New Year

When God led Israel out of Egypt, he told them to change their calendars. Their year would now begin in the month when the last plague occurred, when Israel experienced Passover, and when Israel left Egypt. In Exodus 12:1 we read "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year." In the days and months that followed Israel witnessed the miracle at the Red Sea, the provision of food and water, victory over the Amalekites, and God’s revelation of His covenant at Sinai. What a year! It was God’s new year for Israel.

As Moses led Israel in celebrating and praising God for some of these wonders, they affirmed, "In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed" (Exodus 15:13). God drew the map for Israel to follow and provided the navigational aids so they would not get lost. They might have preferred different latitude and longitude, a speedier schedule, less arduous terrain or  a safer route. Sometimes they failed to discern God’s "unfailing love" as the journey unfolded. Fear, anxiety, doubt, and anger characterized their response when their water supply was running out in wilderness, when starvation seemed imminent, and when hostile forces attacked. Instead of seeing God’s love in these circumstances, they saw a threat by God to destroy them! In Exodus 16:3 they claimed that Moses, God’s representative, has led them into this wilderness "to starve this entire assembly to death." This was only two or three weeks after their celebratory confession expressed in Exodus 15:13. God’s new year did not unfold in accordance with Israel’s expectations. Yet, at the end of the day, they have water, they have food, they are preserved from their enemies, and they met God at Sinai! Incredible challenges still faced the Israelites, but God demonstrated His complete faithfulness.

What will God’s new year, the year of 2008, hold for His people? It is beginning with rather ominous news — violence, riots, economic recession, threats of nuclear war, imminent ecological disaster, risk of pandemics, rising cost of oil. Will we experience God’s unfailing love in the midst of such dire circumstances? Will we be willing and able to discern God’s unfailing love in all that we experience? Who will explain for us how God is at work? How patient will we  be  in allowing God to set the timetable?  When  difficult things happen, how quickly will we begin to complain or  become angry with God?

After God led Israel into Canaan and as Joshua was preparing to die, he could look back on all that Israel had experienced and confess "every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed" (Joshua 23:14). We can enter God’s new year of 2008 with the same confidence. We know that God’s "goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life" (Psalm 23:6). May His Holy Spirit enable us to perceive His goodness and rejoice in His mercy, i.e. His unfailing love. May you know and experience this kind of confidence in God in 2008.

New Testament Talk: Defining “Evangelical”

Considerable discussion is occurring about the appropriate way to define an "Evangelical". John Stackhouse (Church and Faith Trends volume 1, issue 1, EFC website) proposes a definition that includes the following elements:  orthodox and orthoprax, crucicentric, biblicist, conversionist, missional, and transdenominational. There is much to commend such a definition, although personally I think it emphasizes the individual aspects of the Christian reality too much and does not express the ecclesial community that marks the Evangelical  reality. Yet, it will serve well for the purposes of historical and sociological study.It is important for us to use terms with understanding, lest we talk past one another.

But trying to define ‘Evangelical’ does raise the question as to which term we might use to most adequately describe a follower of Jesus. The term ‘Evangelical’ may well serve this purpose within intra-Christian discussion and dialogue. However, when we consider the New Testament, particularly the epistle literature, the descriptor most frequently used is "holy ones" (or "saints" as rendered in the King James Version). The focus seems to be not so much on confession of specific Gospel content (i.e. evangelical) which one affirms, but rather on a positional or relational reality (i.e. holy by virtue of position in Christ or relationship with God). In Acts the writer identifies followers of Jesus as "disciples" (e.g. Acts 6:7; 9:19). The emphasis in this term defines the learning that occurs, as a person follows a teacher or philosopher or religious savant  and is mentored in the process. Frequently the New Testament leaders will refer to fellow believers simply as "brothers" (a somewhat generic relational term). In the case of the terms disciple and brothers, again the emphasis is on position (i.e. learner) or relationship. These terms are used by Christians to describe themselves.

When followers of Jesus become sufficiently numerous to be noted, their opponents used diverse terms to describe them. These include "followers of the Way" (Acts 9:2; 24:14); "Adherents to the Christ party" (i.e. "Christianoi", Acts 11:26: 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16); and "the Nazarene sect" (Acts 24:5).

It seems to me that the term ‘Evangelical’ serves to distinguish a certain type of Christian from another kind of Christian. It’s function would be similar to terms Paul used in intra-Christian debate to describe "Judaizers", i.e. Christians who thought Gentile believers should adopt Jewish practices in order to be included within the covenant.  For this reason non-Evangelicals might find it useful to type or categorize a certain segment within Christendom. However, for those within "Evangelicalism" it cannot be a sufficient expression of who we are, because it does not identify sufficiently well our relationship to God and Christ, or our relationship with one another. Here the biblical terms in the first category, i.e. holy ones, disciples, brothers, speak more eloquently and forcefully of our identity in Christ.

Our language reveals the way we think about things. The term "Evangelical" expresses a distinctiveness from other diverse groups. It is exclusive language, in a sense. So when it is used, it separates, it makes divisions. This is sometimes necessary and in certain contexts very helpful.  Within the early church reflected in the New Testament literature,  the language chosen by those within the church to describe followers of Jesus is  positional and relational, emphasizing their oneness in Christ, loyalty to Him as Lord and Saviour, and commitment to fulfilling his mission. As followers of Jesus we may need from time to time to describe ourselves to those without as "Evangelicals" because this term defines us in certain respects. However, when talking among ourselves as followers of Jesus, we might be better served to emphasize the New Testament terms such as disciples, brothers/sisters, holy ones.  It will make us more conscious and aware of our essential relationship with one another in Christ and partnership in Kingdom progress.

Churchtalk: Responding to the Breakdown of Tolerance

In a recent issue of Mcleans a lead article raised the alarm that our Canadian commitment to multiculturalism may be eroding. The key question that Canadians are debating is this:  what reasonable accommodations should Canadians make to cultural and religious minorities? Where should the limits be drawn? The writer claimed that many in Canada are "utterly conflicted" on this question. Recently violent responses to religious and cultural minorities have occurred in various regions of Canada.

If as followers of Jesus all we can muster is tolerance for those who hold different values and dress differently, then we have not understood Jesus’ teaching.

Many suggest that the answer to these conflicts lies in transforming Canada into a purely secular society. If we accomplish this, we will enthrone tolerance. Apparently religious values or ethnic values cause intolerance. This sounds to me like the argument used in the past that the rape victim was somehow responsible for being raped! If these religious and cultural minorities just stopped being different, then we could tolerate them. A retreat to secular values, however, will not solve the problem, because even within secularism there are many diverse values vying for priority. Where in the world do we find a secular society that is free from intolerance?

Maybe the growing reaction against multiculturalism and intolerance towards religious and ethnic minorities in our Canadian society is presenting Evangelical Christians with a new opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus and show another and better way to live.

For Christians tolerance is an insufficient response to human differences. Jesus challenged his followers to "love your enemies" and to "pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Tolerance is not good enough for kingdom people. If as followers of Jesus all we can muster is tolerance for those who hold different values and dress differently, then we have not understood Jesus’ teaching.  Paul struggled with this issue and declared that in the Messiah Jesus no cultural or economic distinctions count (Galatians 3:28). Paul claims that God is "no respecter of persons", i.e. he does not play favourites. God loves "the world" and expects His people to do the same. Maybe the growing reaction against multiculturalism and intolerance towards religious and ethnic minorities in our Canadian society is presenting Evangelical Christians with a new opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus and show another and better way to live. God’s Kingdom embraces people from all cultures and in our church communities, as we are empowered by God’s Spirit, we can truly "love one another."

Evangelical Christians should note, however, that they are a religious minority in Canada. This means that sooner or later their Christian values will conflict with generally accepted Canadian values. When this happens, the government or courts will judge what ‘reasonable accommodation’ should be in specific cases. Perhaps we already see this happening in the issue of same-sex marriage. How should we respond when our values are regarded as ‘unreasonable’ and accommodation to them will violate Canadian values? Each situation will require great wisdom. However, we should not be surprised that such things happen, because we are different. Jesus has made us new and together we form his "holy nation".

MinistryTalk: “Resourcing the Vision”

According to Robert Quinn in Deep Change a legitimate vision must exceed perceived resources.  If our vision fits neatly within our current resources it is merely a plan, not a vision. Planning is important, but it will not result in "deep change", according to Quinn. Only vision enables an organization to discern a future that moves it from current destruction dilemmas into new, fruitful spaces.

Sounds good! But can our vision outstrip the potential resources? I think we have to say yes. Visions are energizing, captivating, motivating, but they can also be too big for an organization to sustain. In such cases those involved in the enterprise can become discouraged, fatigued, and frustrated because their vision is beyond their reach. How do we measure whether our organization has the capacity to achieve its preferred vision?

    1. Develop clear strategies that demonstrate in a step-by-step fashion how the vision can be achieved. If you cannot conceptualize this in ways that make sense to you and others, then the vision is idealistic but has little chance of being achieved.

   2.  Consult with others who have adopted challenging visions and seen them achieved. Take advantage of their wisdom and experience to gauge whether your vision has similar potential.

   3.  Discern whether there is a deep, independently confirmed consensus within the organization that the preferred vision is the way to proceed. Sometimes leaders have great vision, but no one else in the organization has come to a similar view of the potential. While there may be occasions where such a ‘prophetic’ insight occurs, within church contexts we would believe that the Spirit will confirm the vision’s potential through various voices.

   4.  Ultimately, a church’s decision to embrace and pursue a vision is a matter of faith and trust in God, as well as personal integrity. If the status quo is not enabling the church to achieve its mission, then Christian integrity requires us to step out and grow forward. We will not see every step of the way clearly, but will believe that God will provide wisdom and resources when necessary.

 When we reflect on Paul’s vision to take the Gospel to non-Jewish people, we quickly discern that his vision was astounding, but he was not quite sure how this would work out. He initiated some missionary journeys without knowing where specifically he would be going. He trusted God to guide him on the way and He did, because he was faithful to the vision. At times he did not know where he would find the resources to continue, yet often we discover churches or individuals sending resources to assist at just the right time. Paul helps us discern the fine line between faith, vision, and presumption.

Translation Theology

No, this is not an attack on any Bible translation. But it is a serious question — how do our translations of the Bible  influence the forming of our Christian worldview? We believe that God intended his Word to be translated into every language. Yet as we make the transition from Greek or Hebrew text to English or some other language, meaning is modified, often in subtle ways and without intention. The trust that Bible translators carry is immense, to say the least.

Does it make a difference whether we call John "the baptizer" or "the immerser" (Mark 1:4)? After all, the term "baptize" is a transliteration of the Greek, not a translation. And what has been the effect of using "Christ" (Mark 1:1) to render the Greek word for Messiah, i.e. anointed one? Or what image is created in our minds when we read the Jesus "preached the word"  (Mark 2:2)to the crowds gathered at his house in Capernaum? Was it a three pointer? Topical or expository? Or one wonders why the New International Version (NIV) translates euaggelion as "gospel" in Mark 1:1 and then "good news" in Mark 1:14-15, and then reverts to "gospel" in all the other occurrences in Mark until Mark 16:15 when suddenly it is "good news" again. What contextual factors would lead to such variance? Does this kind of alternation affect how we understand God’s Word and influence the theology that we formulate?

In Mark 2:15-17 the word hamartoloi is translated "sinners". It is placed in quotation marks in verses 15-16, but not in verse 17. In the Markan text "sinners" is differentiated from tax-collectors in 2:15-16. But when we hear the word, our grid tends to be formed by the Pauline understanding, i.e. "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." But obviously this is not the kind of "sinner" that the Greek text of Mark 2:15-16 is  describing. But then in 2:17 we suddenly find the word "sinner" used in Jesus’ response, but without any quotation marks around it.  Presumably the contrast in his words between "righteous" and "sinner" changes the nuance of the term in the mind of the translator, from describing a social category, to describing a spiritual category.  When we come to the story of Jesus’ betrayal in Mark 14:41, Jesus says that "the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." The NIV does not place any quotation marks around the word "sinners" in this context. But what did Jesus mean by using this term in 14:41? Is he placing his betrayers in the social category defined by the scribes in Mark 2:15-16 or is he defining them as "sinners", i.e. sinful human beings?

Examples could be multiplied and while the NIV is used as an example here, all translations struggle with this problem. But these instances beg the question about the way these renderings, read by millions of people and liturgically intoned countless times in the hearing of the faithful, shape or perhaps mis-shape the theology of the average believer.

I do not raise this question to create doubt about the trustworthiness of good Bible translations. Rather, I draw attention to this reality — our theology does get shaped by how we read these translations, whether we like it or not. Frequent reference to the Greek or Hebrew text becomes more important, not less, as the number, type and quality of English Bible translations continues to multiply. Preachers and teachers have a significant responsibility to make sure they "divide the Word of God rightly." Perhaps competence in New Testament Greek or biblical Hebrew is becoming more important, not less, so that ministry leaders guide and form God’s people as diligently as possible. If we take short cuts here, what might be the unintended consequences?

Ministrytalk: Spiritual Formation — is it all good?

Great interest now focuses upon fostering spiritual formation within all segments of Christianity. In its best forms, Christian spiritual formation uses various exercises and disciplines to form us to be like Christ, in thought, word and deed. Jesus himself taught his followers to pray, to resist evil, to love, to serve, to pursue righteousness, to study God’s word, to think as God thinks. But are all the exercises proposed today to assist Christian spiritual formation equally helpful and aligned with Christian values and understanding?

…the encouragement from the biblical examples is to be "meditating on God’s word day and night", as the basis for contemplative prayer. The outcome sought is the deep intimacy of knowing God as we reflect intensely upon his person displayed through his incredible actions.

In the first decades of the Christian movement some believers were convinced that being circumcised and obeying the Old Testament ‘law’ was the most appropriate pattern for stimulating spiritual growth. Yet Paul had to disabuse such believers of this idea, arguing that for non-Jews, circumcision as a spiritual exercise was actually harmful. Jesus criticized the Jewish religious leaders for requiring a Sabbath practice that inhibited spiritual formation. Paul warns believers at Corinth about the spiritual damage caused by participating thoughtlessly in the Lord’s Supper. It is not just an improper spiritual exercise that can cause problems, but the attitude our hearts have as we participate in it.

One of the spiritual exercises currently encouraged is called "contemplative prayer." Major prayers recorded in the Bible tend to be rehearsals of what God has done, meditations on the acts of God and their implications, which in turn give an encouragement for the petitioner to ask, trust and quietly wait for God’s response. I cannot locate any occasion in the Bible where God’s people are instructed to engage in prayer by empyting their minds and waiting for some thought, some image, some message to come. Rather, the encouragement from the biblical examples is to be "meditating on God’s word day and night", as the basis for contemplative prayer. The outcome sought is the deep intimacy of knowing God as we reflect intensely upon his person displayed through his incredible actions.

We need to distinguish carefully this Christian form of contemplative prayer from the use of contemplative prayer in other religious traditions. The constant repetition of a single phrase (a mantra) or the effort to focus the mind on nothing, or the attempt to open oneself up to spiritual forces — none of this is spiritual formation as defined or exemplified in Scripture.  In helping believers to form good spiritual habits, pastors and spiritual mentors, like an exercise coach, must be careful to provide the best advice, lest  the  person be harmed. The practices of Christian spirituality must be crafted in alignment with biblical principles, no matter what historical or contemporary Christian mystics might suggest. We also have to be careful about the spiritual practices some urge us to borrow from other religious traditions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. And even from within the very broad stream of Christian tradition, we have to examine carefully the theological basis that spiritual practitioners may offer to justify certain spiritual formation exercises.

Just like the wrong form of physical exercise can damage severely muscle, tendons, and joints, so too blithely embracing all and sundry forms of human religious practice will result in soul harm. Satan can use spiritual formation exercises to mislead and deceive a believer, just as he can use anything else — even the form of an angel.

MinistryTalk: “Leading From the Second Chair”

In their book Leading from the Second Chair Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson have provided an excellent discussion of the challenges and opportunities people in associate ministry leadership roles face on a daily basis. Their goal is to help such individuals thrive and discern good, creative ways to cope with tensions that inevitably define this role. They express their thesis in these terms:

"Being in the second chair is the ultimate leadership paradox. It is the paradox of being a leader and a subordinate, having a deep role and a wide one, and being content with the present while continuing to dream about the future." (page xiii)

Each of the three major sections in the book considers the implications of one of these paradoxes. As well, at the end of each section they also include a word to the lead pastor, intending to help such individuals understand more clearly how to help the second chair flourish in his or her role.

They forcefully address the issue of learning to work productively within the limitations of the role. For example, they stress the importance of keeping the lead pastor informed, lest a hint of insubordination emerge and disrupt the ministry of the church. The priority of the church’s ministry over and above individual wants and desires gets due attention. They also urge second chair leaders to take full advantage of the learning opportunities they have in such roles. And then, they deal frankly with the question of future ministry leadership roles. A second chair leader must learn to give 100% in the current role, even while he or she may be waiting on God’s timing for an opportunity to be a lead pastor.

Two questions were raised as I considered their ideas. First, I am not convinced that the paradoxes they proposed and described are unique to second chair leaders. It seems to me that lead pastors or ‘first chair leaders’ have to struggle equally with these three paradoxes. In some senses the role of lead pastor is more restricted than that of the second chair. Greater responsibility requires greater commitment to serving others. Perhaps that is why second chair leaders need to learn how to thrive in the midst of these paradoxes, if they are going to fill the role of lead pastor.

Second, the authors use the example of Joseph to provide biblical foundation for their advice to second chair leaders. But does Joseph really function in this capacity? He undoubtedly served as a subordinate leader in some periods of his life, particularly when he was the slave in Potiphar’s house. However, when he was the first minister of Egypt under Pharoah, he had all the authority of Pharoah and was not a second chair leader. Perhaps a more pertinent example might be someone such as Timothy or Mark in relation to Paul or Joshua in his relationship to Moses.

However, these are relatively minor issues perhaps. If you are looking for a resource that might strengthen the understanding of the dynamics involved in team ministry and provide opportunity for candid discussion about relationships and roles in such contexts, Bonem and Patterson’s book would be a provocative tool to use.

Mark 1:1 — The Beginning of the Gospel or the Norm for the Gospel or both?

Eugene Boring in his new commentary on Mark’s Gospel published in the New Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006) proposes that the first word in Mark’s Gospel (archÄ“) signifies both beginning or origin, and norm, which he proposes should be translated as "the norm for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ" (32). There are at least two problems with this proposal.

First, it would be unusual for one word to carry two separate and distinct significances in the same context. Would this not comprise a  hermeneutical fallacy, unless something in the text would signal that a double meaning was intended by the writer? Surely one has to choose one or the other, but not propose that both equally are valid and were intended by the author.

Second, there is the question whether the term archÄ“ means "norm" or "yardstick" in the New Testament, and especially in Mark’s Gospel. The term does signify ruler, in the sense of an authority figure in the New Testament and Boring does reference such usage. However, there is no clear example in the New Testament where this word conveys the sense of norm or yardstick. In fact, I think one would be hard pressed to find examples of this usage in Greek literature outside of the New Testament. It can signify ‘first principle’ in philosophical and cosmological discussion, but even here the sense of ‘norm’ would be rather unusual.

Certainly within the Markan narrative (10:6; 13:8,19) this term carries the meaning of ‘beginning’ with reference to creation or to the starting point of persecution. As well, the analogies we find in the Greek Old Testament (e.g. Hosea 1:2 "the beginning of the word of the Lord to Hosea") would suggest that the sense of ‘beginning’ or ‘origin’ defines Mark’s intended meaning in 1:1 — "The beginning/origin of the gospel of Jesus Messiah Son of God…."

It may well be that Mark intends to compose "a narrative that both communicates the message from and about Jesus and provides the norm for the continuation of the proclamation in the mission of the church", but I do not think he can base such a conclusion on the use of archē in Mark 1:1. That must be argued on other grounds.


The “Ministry Leadership Team” – the Best Model?

George Cladis, Leading the Team-Based Church. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999. vii-xv, 1-189.

According to Cladis the best of kind of leadership model for the North American church in this postmodern era is the ministry leadership team. He begins by grounding his model in Trinitarian theology. Then he defines seven specific characteristics, based on his understanding of the Trinity, that such a team should cultivate and exhibit, discerning along the way connections between these characteristics and the contours of postmodernism. Effective ministry teams will be covenanting, visionary, culture-creating, collaborative, trusting, empowering, and learning. In the second section of his book Cladis treats each of these elements in detail, providing examples of their effectiveness and importance to the success of a ministry team leadership model.

When I saw that his first chapter would establish a theological foundation for ministry leadership teams in the way the Trinity operates, I was eager engage his ideas. He makes reference to Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity, with the three persons pictured as sitting, perhaps on thrones, around a central table. Intense, intimate, but calm discussion seems to be occurring among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Cladis correctly discerns that Rublev was expressing the concept of perichoresis, the interpenetration of the persons of the Trinity. Continue reading

Who is the Happiest Canadian?

Macleans magazine did their annual ‘happiness’ poll of Canadians on our national holiday. While some aspects of Canadian life generate stress and disappointment, the trend continues to show that Canadians, by an overwhelming majority are happy — in fact may be one of the happiest people living on this planet. Of course, the degree of happiness felt is related to feeling good about oneself, feeling loved, having a satisfying job, and having a reasonable income. Tune into a phonein radio show or read a community paper  and you may wonder about the accuracy of these results! We may be happy, but our ability to complain has achieved the level of an art form!

What seems astonishing is the discovery that "there is no statistically significant difference in happiness levels between atheists and those who have a religion." Yet there is an exception: "The survey’s small sample of evangelical Christians found a 100 per cent satisfaction level with their relationships." A similar score was noted among Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and Bhuddists. Perhaps the depth of happiness reported is related to the degree of religious commitment or the confidence such believers have in God.

What the Macleans article does not do is to define ‘happiness’. So we are left wondering what Canadians are really saying when they respond to this survey. Are we happy because there is no military conflict within our borders and social institutions continue to function with a modicum of reliability? Is happiness a function of financial security? Are we happy because we have food to eat, a reasonable place to live, and some degree of self worth? If Canadians are so happy, why do we find so many of our fellow citizens addicted to drugs, living in alcoholic stupor, getting divorced as frequently as they get married, mired in debt,  and generally disappointed with life?

Jesus warned people to measure happiness correctly. First, we must consider the eternal scale. If we define happiness merely in terms of this life and its situation, then we will be wildly misled. Jesus told the story of the rich farmer whose harvests made him incredibly wealthy. Preoccupied with plans to build new barns and expand his operation, he neglected eternal realities — death that would separate him from all of these material things and require him to give an account to God for his living. We have to measure happiness in terms of our eternal destiny.

Second, Jesus taught that happiness means receiving God’s approval. We only discover blessedness when we are reconciled with God and belong to his family. Jesus told the story of the wise person who listened to his words and obeyed them, in contrast to the foolish person who disregarded him. The wise person was compared to the housing contractor who built his house on a rock foundation. The foolish person was like the builder who constructed his house on the sandbar in the creek bed. When the winter rains came, the swollen waters of the creek destroyed the house of the foolish person, but these storms could not dislodge the wise person’s house. God’s approval rests on those who follow Jesus.

Third, Jesus showed us by his own life that true happiness is to be found in serving others — giving ourselves so that others might be helped. There may be ‘pain in the offering’, but we know as well the blessing of God. Paul speaks about this in 1 Corinthians 13. If we have all the wealth in the world, if we are the most generous people in the world, if have all the knowledge and wisdom in the world, but lack God’s love in our lives, we are nothing.

If we use the measurements for happiness the Jesus taught and Paul expressed, then I think we would find the survey results drastically changed.

Missional Leadership: Does this Emperor have Clothes?

The missional church movement calls the church to rediscover its kingdom identity and purpose as the people of God. Now we hear that churches will require a new kind of leadership – missional leadership – to guide their re-development as missional congregations. Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk in The Missional Leader. Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World articulate how current ministry leaders can become missional leaders and be equipped to lead churches in the transition from current modes of being church, to the missional mode – “a community of God’s people who live into the imagination that they are, by very nature, God’s missionary people living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ”(xv).

What kind of leader will this transition take? Does it require a new kind of leader? Roxburgh and Romanuk argue that it does and that old patterns of ministry leadership no longer serve. Consider their comparison and contrast between ‘pastoral’ and ‘missional’ models of leadership (12-13).

As I reflected on their materials, I wondered how different such missional leadership really is?

In the first part of their book they offer good advice and perspective about the new postmodern cultural context in which many congregations now function. The changes are real and in many cases dramatic and if congregations do not pay attention to these changes and seriously inquire how to be authentic, hospitable people of God in this new reality, then they will become missionally irrelevant. But these issues of contextualization, cultural exegesis, and biblically-faithful community surely have surfaced as key issues in congregational life again and again. They form the very stuff of being God’s people. During the past twenty years these issues have formed core elements in ministry leadership development.

Do we need to give continual attention to the matter of contextualization and incarnational Christian living? Of course, but it will be led by ministry leaders who possess both pastoral and missional abilities. Roxburgh and Romanuk rightly call ministry leaders to re-engage this task with fervour, understanding, imagination and a sense of hope.

They correctly caution ministry leaders against borrowing unthinkingly leadership practices espoused in the corporate world. They have concerns, for instance, that common strategic planning processes may be too linear, too structured and too top-down, If applied in a straightforward way within the congregational context these processes may violate the community context and prevent significant vision and meaningful change from emerging. These are salutary cautions.

Roxburgh and Romanuk, however, borrow freely from the work of sociologists and psychologists, but rarely do they offer any theological critique of the ideas they use.

For example, they use ideas from Steven Johnson’s publication Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software. As well Surfing the Edge of Chaos by Richard Pascale, Mark Millemann and Linda Gioja is cited to support the idea that congregations, if given opportunity, have the capacity to discern a new future, one not “already determined by a leader.” Yet they do not show how these ideas are coordinate with the patterns which developed in the first generation church and witnessed in the New Testament. Was there a major response to new critical issues in the New Testament church that did not receive some direction from key ministry leaders?

The second part of their book addresses the missional leader specifically. Again, they offer good, sound advice. Ministry leaders need to “model patterns and habits of life” as an effective means of providing leadership for the congregation, rather than depending on organizational restructuring or new forms of polity(115).  But again, does one have to choose between these two or will there be situations where both are important and necessary? The authors believe that the complex sociological contexts in which congregations live requires leaders who “know the basic principles of leading people, forming effective staff, developing teams, or communicating processes”(117). I would agree, but ask what is new about this? Developing these skills has formed part of the standard curriculum for ministry leaders for the last decade or two.

On the one hand Roxburgh and Romanuk argue that ministry leaders do not help the church by creating change processes or measure quantitative growth (120). Rather, ministry leaders must give their attention to the formation of the people of God and through this, change will emerge and perhaps growth as well. They must focus on forming “alternative communities of the kingdom shaped by theological and biblical narrative”(123). On the other hand, if the goal is missional transformation of the congregation, then change must occur and some process of change must be followed. The methods employed to secure change may be different, but some process of change will be embraced.  According to Roxburgh and Romanuk the missional leader prepares the stage or perhaps even takes specific steps to iniatiate such change, even if through quiet, dialogical means.

They have a chapter devoted to “The Character of a Missional Leader”(125-141). Again, what is emphasized is helpful. They urge ministry leaders to foster credible and authentic character, which exhibits four personal qualities: “maturity, conflict management, personal courage, and trustworthiness and trusting”(127). I would question whether conflict management is a ‘personal quality’ rather than a competency, but ministry leaders certainly need these qualities. Again I ask what is new here? Paul seems to me to mention these very things in his list of qualifications for ministry leaders in 1 Timothy 3.

So is missional leadership really a different form of leadership or the wise application of well-known ministry leadership competencies to help congregations deal both with change and transition? Roxburgh and Romanuk emphasize the importance of ministry leaders enabling congregations to discern their identity as kingdom communities and develop processes for missional engagegment that are coherent with this reality. Time, dialogue, and attention to spiritual formation are significant elements. I wonder whether their model works best with rather small congregations, given the dialogical and intimate nature of the process.

In the end I am not convinced that missional leadership, as they define it, is essentially different from good, pastoral leadership that has led congregations historically through periods of significant social change and enabled these communities to develop new ways of being church.

Hearing God’s Message – Luke 2:26

In the infancy stories of Jesus recounted in Luke and Matthew God actively directs events to preserve his Son and to inform participants about the significance of these occurrences. For example twice in Matthew 2 God reveals (chrēmatizō) “by dream” his divine decree to the Magi and to Joseph. In the case of Joseph this expression parallels the employment by God of “the angel of the Lord appearing in a dream” (Matthew 1:20; 2:19) to give him instructions. In the case of the Magi, God used the special star to guide them. Luke tells us (Luke 2:26) that God “had revealed (ēn…kechrēmatismenon) to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he should see the Lord’s Messiah.”

The verb chrēmatizō occurs 9 times in the New Testament. In broad Hellenistic usage it generally signifies to negotiate or have dealings with, often in a business setting or with reference to an official responding to a petition for help. When a deity is involved, then there are overtones of revelation, i.e. an oracle given in response to a petition. The sense of official declaration comes to be used in contexts where a person or a group is named or given a title.

The most frequent usage of chrēmatizō in the New Testament defines occasions when God issues decrees or gives direction. This is its usage in the Gospels. Josephus employs the verb similarly. For example, he tells the story of the Jewish high priest Jaddūs and his encounter with Alexander the Great. The high priest feared what Alexander might do and so asked God for direction. Josephus describes how Jaddūs fell asleep after making a sacrifice and “God spoke oracularly (echrēmatisen) to him in his sleep” and told him what action to take.[1] When Josephus retells the story of Achan’s sin (Joshua 7), he says that Joshua asked God what he should do and God responded (chēmatisantos) with clear instructions.[2] Continue reading

The First Major Translation Project in History –
the Challenge of Cultural Change

It was the beginning of the third century before Christ. Alexander the Great had died and his empire divided among four generals. Greek language and culture swept through the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine. Large numbers of Jewish people were relocating to the emerging metropolis of Alexandria in Egypt. Caught up in all of this change and ferment Jewish people living in Egypt adopted the Greek language and were losing their ability to read and understand Hebrew, the language in which their sacred scriptures were written. Alexandria was an intellectual centre, containing one of the great libraries in antiquity. The king of Egypt at that time desired to include every major writing in this collection. When he heard about the Hebrew scriptures, he wanted a copy (at least this is how the story emerges in later writers) and mandated the librarian to have a translation made and placed in his collection.

Probably the convergence of various factors stimulated the first major translation project in human history – the translation of the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) from Hebrew into Greek. The impact of this project still affects us today because the names we use to describe these books in our Bibles reflect the Greek names, not the Hebrew names.

This translation project has had influence far beyond the imagination of those who initiated it and actually did it. For example, this translation or later revisions of it was used by the New Testament writers as the biblical text they tended to quote in their letters and Gospels. As the Apostles led the church to implement the Great Commission beyond the borders of Palestine, they used the Greek translation of the Old Testament as their primary scriptures. When Paul talks to Timothy about the scriptures he has known “from infancy” (2 Timothy 3:15), he is probably referring to the Greek translation of the Old Testament because Timothy was a product of the Jewish dispersion in Asia Minor.

When Christians today find themselves living in new cultural situations, translation of the scriptures into the language of that culture becomes a primary means, if not a necessity, for establishing a living church.

One of the more significant decisions made by the translators was the selection of the word LORD to translate God’s proper name Yahweh (Jehovah). In the New Testament Jesus is also described by this same term, i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ. On several occasions where the New Testament writer is quoting from an Old Testament text that describes Yahweh’s (the LORD’s) activity, the context makes it clear that the “Lord Jesus Christ” is in fact being identified as Yahweh. Paul’s message in Romans 10:9-13 blends references from Isaiah 28:16 and Joel 2:32 with the confession that “Jesus is Lord.” However, the “LORD” in Isaiah 28 and Joel 2 is Yahweh, but the “Lord” in Romans 10 is Jesus. The implications for the deity of Jesus are considerable.

When Christians today find themselves living in new cultural situations, translation of the scriptures into the language of that culture becomes a primary means, if not a necessity, for establishing a living church. The initiative taken three centuries before Jesus came continues to serve as a model for contemporary Bible translation. The issues those Jewish translators encountered remain the same issues modern Christians face as they seek to contextualize the Gospel without changing it.

The Septuagint Institute at ACTS Seminaries (Septuagint is the technical name given to the Greek Translation of the Old Testament) seeks to enable research into this translation and its continuing influence within the Christian world today.

The Blame Game

In a recent Macleans article (April 16, 2007) Brian Bethune reviews recent writings by several atheists who “blame God for every social problem from Darfur to child abuse.” Strong voices – Hitchens, Onfray, Dawkins, Harris – argue the case for atheism afresh, claiming that religion is purely and only a human creation – toxic in all its forms. The tragic circumstances of 9/11 have generated a new, virulent attack upon all religious expression.

…religion is toxic, because religion cannot and does not deal with human sin. The result is that religion becomes merely another context in which human sinfulness manifests itself.

Christianity comes in for its share of criticism, much of it quite abusive, caustic, and contemptuous. Of course, history offers numerous examples of evil done in the name of Christianity, as well as other religions. Given their location within Western Culture, these apologists for atheism level their most virulent attacks against Christianity, particularly its American versions. Fear that religiously-committed individuals will gain political power and enforce their ideology on all and sundry seems to motivate their stridency.

What does a sincere Christian say in response to such vocal and public attacks? I think one thing that must be said repeatedly is that they conveniently forget the horrors that atheistic systems such as communism perpetrated upon those under its power. The gulags remain constant reminders of terrible abuse – all in the name of atheism. So atheism has no claim to be the answer for a productive human future. Further the claim that we should praise the French Revolution because it turned churches into hospitals is rather naïve in that it conveniently forgets the terrible injustices and murder that this revolution perpetrated, all in its attempt to be free from religion.

Religious hypocrisy still remains the fundamental stumbling-block preventing people from truly hearing the Good News about Jesus.

Further, I would suggest that followers of Jesus would tend to agree that religion is toxic, because religion cannot and does not deal with human sin. The result is that religion becomes merely another context in which human sinfulness manifests itself. Christians are not surprised by this. What humanity needs is not more religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. God gets blamed for a lot of things that Satan does. Probably this is a devilish stratagem.

Finally, if atheism is the best way for humans to live, where do we see this demonstrated in any human society in the world today? Many religious persons would claim that the secularists are in charge now in most Western countries, but fail to see how society has improved or is any better for it. How is the abortion of millions of children annually beneficial? How has atheism helped those trapped in addictions or sexual oppression? It seems strange that so few human beings seem to have seen the light of atheism! Is this all due to the ability of religious organizations to dupe human beings, as the atheists claim? What does this say about human ability and intelligence?

What humanity needs is not more religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Perhaps, however, these voices do help us see how important it is for followers of Jesus to walk carefully in the power of God’s Spirit so that God’s name does not get sullied because of our sinful actions. Religious hypocrisy still remains the fundamental stumbling-block preventing people from truly hearing the Good News about Jesus.

In Jesus we discover true freedom from chains of sinful thinking and doctrinaire foolishness of human thinking.

The Promise of Matthew 24:14
(en holēi tēi oikoumenēi = in all the Roman Empire)

In his final segment of extended teaching to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus outlined their mission beyond the cross and urges them to be faithful to the end. In response to his prophesy that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed, his disciples asked “When will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and end of the age?” (24:3). What follows in the remainder of Matthew 24-25 is Jesus’ response to their questions.Matthew 24:14 in some sense contains the answer to their second question about “the end of the age” as Jesus declares “and then the end will come.” Until the kingdom mission is completed, i.e. “this Gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed …for a witness to all the ethnesin (nations? or people groups? or Gentiles?)”, the end will not come. Jesus assures his followers that the forces of evil cannot derail or cut short God’s program. Until all the diverse, non-Jewish1 peoples observe the Gospel proclaimed, the end will not occur. Of course, we strive to discern what this proclaiming activity entails and because of this prophesy some urge the church forward in the Great Commission program as a means of hastening the return of the Lord Jesus. However, Jesus probably was not placing in human hands a mechanism to bring about the second coming. In this context Matthew uses the term oikomenos to represent another limitation that Jesus provides in this answer. The Gospel will be proclaimed “en holÄ“i tÄ“i oikoumenÄ“i”, usually translated “in the whole world”. This is the only place in Matthew’s Gospel where this word occurs. Mark does not record it in the parallel passage (Mark 13:10). Even though Luke uses this term eight times in Luke-Acts, he does not use it in the parallel passage (Luke 21:13). So Matthew seems to use this expression for some emphasis within Jesus’ teaching. Before we explore this question, however, we should note that apart from its occurrence in Luke-Acts, this term also is used in Revelation (3:10; 12:9; 16:14), Hebrew (1:6; 2:5) and in a quote from the Old Testament (Psalm 19:5) by Paul in Romans (10:18). It generally refers to the ‘inhabited world’. For example, in Luke 4:5 Satan shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the inhabited world (tÄ“s oikoumenÄ“s).” In Athens Paul proclaimed that God had appointed a day when He would “judge the inhabited world (tÄ“n oikoumenÄ“n)” (Acts 17:31). In Revelation 3:10 John reports that he saw in his vision Jesus promising the church in Philadelphia that he would preserve them “from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole inhabited world (epi tÄ“s oikoumenÄ“s holÄ“s).” It can also have a more limited sense and refer to the Roman Empire. We probably find this sense in Luke 2:1 where the writer reports Caesar’s command that “a census should be taken of the entire Roman world (pasan tÄ“n oikoumenÄ“n).” Perhaps this is also the sense in Acts 24:5 where Paul is accused of being a troublemaker, “stirring up riots among the Jews all over the Roman world (tois kata tÄ“n oikoumenÄ“n).” When we come to Matthew 24:14, we have to ask whether Jesus meant that the Gospel would be proclaimed “in all the Roman world” or “in all the inhabited world.” Jesus also said in this verse that this Gospel would be “for a witness to all the Gentiles.” . . > . . > . . >


  • 1. There remains a Jewish mission, but normally in Matthew’s Gospel the term ethnÄ“ refers to Gentiles.

Smart, Healthy and Disciplined

We are in the midst of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Because the Vancouver Canucks have won the right to participate, our city is appropriately excited. What the fans hope for is a team that is ‘smart, healthy, and disciplined,’ presuming that this formula will bring them success. Of course, flashes of brilliant hockey finesse also will go a long way to securing victory.Jim Brown uses these same words – smart, healthy, disciplined – to describe a board that operates creatively and with excellence.1 He seeks to help corporate and non-profit boards develop the disciplines that enable them to be great. Many church board members are reading Brown’s book and with benefit. Yet, because he is not writing specifically for the spiritual context of a Christian church, we have to consider carefully how to evaluate his advice from a Christian point of view. I am aware that at the conclusion to his book, Brown “gives thanks to God, who gives meaning and purpose to all [my] life. Everything I am and do is dedicated to you.”2 So when we apply these terms “smart, healthy, disciplined” to define the way a church board should operate, what should they mean? Churches expect their leadership teams similarly to function with wisdom, spiritual maturity and good practices. They have given to their boards a significant trust. The word ‘smart’ combines wisdom, creativity, cleverness and savvy. A smart church board understands the spiritual struggle in which the faith community operates. It is not business as usual because we face a strong and clever enemy who seeks to destroy God’s work in and among us. This board hears the words of Jesus that we must be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” when evaluating issues and dealing with community relations. Christian ‘smarts’ will include the ability to see things from God’s perspective – evaluating on the basis of divine values and goals as revealed in the Bible. The missional sense of being engaged with God in “heralding the Good News of the Kingdom to all the nations” will dominate and guide our thinking. A healthy church board will demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in its internal relationships its treatment of employees. The values of agape-love, humbleness, respect and integrity will envelope the board’s operations. Health will show itself in the care the board takes to develop careful policies that will result in good spiritual care for the congregation, prayerful support and care for the pastoral leadership, and the advancement of the church’s mission. Good minutes, good agendas, good orientation, good chairing all serve to support excellence and enable the board to be healthy. Within Scripture the term ‘discipline’ relates to discipleship – following Jesus in obedient living and being accountable to Him as Lord and Saviour. A church board that is disciplined will keep on task, will expect each member to use the Spirit’s giftedness to advance the vision, and will pursue the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Thus it will work diligently, consult carefully, engage prayerfully, and educate itself deeply. Within the spiritual setting of God’s kingdom, it is the Spirit that enables believers to live and work in a smart, healthy, disciplined way. These things are God’s gifts to us, if we ask for them and sincerely walk together as boards according to the Spirit’s cadence and for the advancement of the church’s mission.


  • 1. Jim Brown, The Imperfect Board Member (San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006):xv-xvii.
  • 2. Ibid., 201.

Earth Day 2007

Earth day 2007 has come and gone. What did you do to help preserve planet earth and its delicate ecosystems? The fervency of the rhetoric matches that of revival preachers from a bygone era. Guilt is heaped upon those who refuse to comply. “Make the culprits pay!” advocates shout. The activities of the human species, like some deadly virus or parasite, are degrading, corrupting and destroying the earth. Human beings are viewed as part of the earth system, but a part that is out of control, a rogue element that must be stopped. Earth For some the saving of planet earth is a religious quest. “Gaia” is their god and ecology their religious faith. Others support these measures out of self-interest. They like to swim in clear oceans and vacation in pristine wilderness. However, some adopt strategies to be eco-responsible because they have children and grandchildren and desire them to have access to the same wonders of nature that their generation enjoyed. Others are skeptical, seeing the vastness of the planet and wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, the earth in the view of some is billions of years old and has managed to survive countless disasters. It’s been hot and then cold and then hot again. If human beings are part of the evolutionary sequence, then their activity becomes just one more development that earth will cope with in some way. If dinosaurs became extinct in the course of evolution, then probably other species will become extinct too. So what’s the worry? Believers in Jesus seek to find a way through these debates and claims so that they are true to God and His Word, and also by their actions add to his reputation, not detract from it. For us earth day can be the opportunity:

  • to praise our Creator for the wonders of this earth and the entire universe. He made it all!
  • to evaluate our own personal and corporate stewardship of the planet and its resources. How much of its resources are being expended on our own selfish and sinful pursuits, rather than those that would help human beings live and flourish in health and peace? As part of the industrial complex, what can we do to use these resources more responsibly?
  • to express that the earth is more than a physical place, it is also a spiritual place. There is good and evil alive and well on planet earth. The ecosystem is not just biological or geological, but is also theological.
  • to express our hope that one day God will create a new heaven and a new earth in which there will be no pollution – moral or otherwise.
  • to emphasize the special role that God has given to human beings in this earth as stewards of his creation.

As the Psalmist said, “The earth is the Lord’s!” To celebrate earth day rightly, we must also celebrate its Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps next year you church might celebrate earth day, but in a way that honours God as Creator, and Jesus Christ as its sustainer.

Reactions to the News of Jesus’ Resurrection

In the various Gospels we have complementary accounts of the resurrection of Jesus and the diverse responses that people had to this news. We tend to think that these first century people easily accepted that God had raised Jesus from the dead. However, that is not the reality, at least as we find it in the Gospels. It took repeated appearances and stern words from Jesus himself before some were ready to believe that his resurrection had happened. The implications of such an event were enormous and people wanted firm evidence that it was true before accepting that Jesus truly was Messiah. After all, a dead Messiah, in any Jewish setting, was a contradiction in terms. One of the more surprising responses is reported by Luke (24:11). Women went early on Sunday morning to complete the burial preparations for Jesus. When they arrived at the tomb they found the stone door no longer blocking the tomb’s entrance. They entered the tomb and found no body. While they were considering this, two angels appeared and announced Jesus’ resurrection, in accordance with Jesus’ own words. The women rush back to report this “to the eleven and the rest” (24:9). Luke tells us this group of women included Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the rest with them (24:10). However, to the eleven “these matters appeared before them as nonsense (lÄ“ros).” This is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament. Why did Luke choose this word to describe the response of the eleven to the women’s witness about Jesus’ resurrection?…

The Dance is Not Perichōrēsis

In several recent publications various authors have sought to support arguments related to the understanding of the Trinity by stating that the Greek noun perichōrēsis (cognate verb perichōreō) signifies dance or dancing. For example, George Cladis states that “Perichoresis means literally ‘circle dance’.”[1] Eugene Peterson concurs: “The dance is perichoresis, the Greek word for dance.”[2] In her discussion about the Trinity, Catharine LaCugna discusses various analogies “used to depict perichōrēsis.” But she finds them too limiting. Instead she suggests “this is why the image of ‘the divine dance’ has been used to translate perichōrēsis. Even if the philological warrant for this is scant, the metaphor of dance is effective. Choreography suggests the partnership of movement,…”[3]

But does perichōrēsis mean “a circle dance” and does the cognate verb mean “to dance”? The fact is that these terms have nothing to do with dancing. Liddell and Scott indicate that there are two distinct Greek verbs:

perichōreō means to go around. perichōrēsis is defined as ‘rotation’.[4]

perichoreuō means to dance around.[5] No cognate noun is listed.

So there is no warrant for suggesting that perichōrēsis has any connection with dancing in Greek Classical Literature.

Perhaps, though, it may have come to mean this and so the church fathers had this sense in mind when they applied it to the Trinity? A scan of the information revealed in Lampe’s A Patristic Greek Lexicon, however, is not encouraging:

perichōreō means “interchange” when used in reference to the two natures of Christ and “interpenetrate” when it describes the actions of the members of the Trinity. A similar range of meaning is found for the cognate noun.[6]

perichoreuō is also listed with the meaning “dance round”, but the primary references are found in Pseudo-Dionysius Aeropagita (5th century) and these uses are not related to the Trinity per se. Also, Lampe only lists three occurrences, whereas for perichōreō he lists many occurrences, both Christologically and in relation to Trinitarian discussions.

Again, we find no evidence that suggests perichōreō has anything to do with dancing.

St. John of Damascus (8th century) used perichōrēsis in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith to describe how the members of the Trinity relate to one another. For example, he says “they are made one not so as to commingle, but so as to cleave to each other and they have their being in each other [kai tēn en allēlais perichōrēsin echousi] without any coalescence or commingling.” However in this context he makes no use of the analogy of dancing to explain this relationship. Augustus Strong indicates that “theologians have designated this intercommunion by the terms perichōrēsis, circumincessio, intercommunication, circulation, inexistentia.”[7]

What can we conclude from this? It seems that some writers have confused perichoreuō (dance round) with perichōreō (interpenetrate). Although the verbs sound similar and are spelled somewhat similarly, they have two quite different meanings. The primary lexica for Classical and Patristic Greek give no indication that perichōreō was ever used to describe the motions of dancing. Catharine LaCugna is right so far as she goes to say that “the philological warrant for this is scant.”[8] It is in fact non-existent.

If a person desires to use the metaphor of dance to describe the mutual interactions of the persons of the Trinity that might be useful and appropriate. However, one cannot justify the use of such a metaphor by trying to connect it with perichōreō. That tune will not play. Nor should one pretend that the term “choreography” in some sense relates to perichōreō. Again, there is no etymological relationship whatsoever. Perichoretic dancing is a modern invention that does not come from the meaning of the underlying Greek term or its use in the Church Fathers.


Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

December 8, 2006.

[1] George Cladis, Leading the Team-Based Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999):4.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eedrmans, 2005): 44-45

[3] Catharine LaCugna, God For us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1973): 271. Peterson refers to her publication in footnote 15 of his volume and quotes from page 272 as support for his understanding.

[4] Henry G. Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966):1394

[5] Ibid., 1393.

[6] G.W.H. Lampe, editor, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968):1077-1078.

[7] Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, Penn.: Judson Press, 1974):333.

[8] Op. cit., 271.

Alumni: Randy (1975) and Ruth (1973) Kamp

Randy Kamp, Canadian Member of Parliament for Pitt Meadows– Maple Ridge–Mission. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. Randy (BTh. 1975) & Ruth (Certificate 1973) are Northwest alumni.Randy and Ruth Kamp

Randy, in the years since graduation, what kinds of ministry has God led you and Ruth to be involved in?

Ruth and I met on our first day at Northwest and got married a few years later. After I completed my Bachelor of Theology degree in 1975, we spent a year as associate pastor in Edmonton and then moved to Fort McMurray where I was employed in retailing. We returned to Northwest in 1978 where I completed a year of studies towards a Master’s degree. But then we decided to move back to Fort McMurray where we spent another three years in retail work.

In 1983 we joined Wycliffe Bible Translators and, after training, we spent two terms in the Philippines. We lived in a village situation for a while, being trained in linguistics and translation, but during our second term we lived at our northern center where I served as the regional director for teams in the northern area of the country.

In 1992 we returned to Canada and I served as associate pastor at Maple Ridge Baptist until 1996. At that point the opportunity came to get involved in the political arena, managing our MP’s constituency office. When he retired in 2004, I won the Conservative Party of Canada nomination and was then elected as the Member of Parliament for Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission.

You have served Northwest as a Board member for many years. What motivated you to volunteer your time and energy for such a role?

I had the privilege of serving as a member of the Board for about ten or eleven years. Although we went through some challenging times, I really enjoyed my time on the Board. I made a lot of friends and found the Board to be a great support group. Several things motivated me to serve in this capacity. I grew up in a Bible-believing family and church, but when I got to Northwest I realized how much I didn’t know. It was my training at Northwest that helped me establish a firm Christian foundation. This experience led me to the conclusion that Christians needed to be well-trained to live most fruitfully and serve most effectively. So I was pleased to have the opportunity to help Northwest achieve its mission by serving on the Board.

You have served as Member of Parliament for the Pitt Meadow—Maple Ridge—Mission riding for two terms so far. How do you see your involvement as an MP in relation to your Christian commitment? What has motivated you to develop this vision for involvement in Canadian society?

It has been a real privilege to serve as an MP, but I have to admit that it was never my ambition. So it was a very difficult decision, probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I enjoyed my work in the constituency office, and was also part-time interim pastor at Ruth Morton Baptist, and would have been happy to keep doing both. But when the opportunity presented itself I began to see my time in the constituency office as a kind of apprenticeship and preparation for a different kind of service. So I started down that path, leaving the outcome to God. I’m glad I did.

I believe in the doctrine of separation of church and state, but not in the separation of faith and politics. Our faith has moral and social implications and we have the obligation to express these and to influence public policy. I bring to my role as a politician a Christian worldview, but not a Christian agenda. In fact, I believe every parliamentarian looks at the issues through a lens that’s formed by his or her personal experiences and values. In my case I look at each piece of legislation through a Christian lens, applying Christian principles to the decisions I have to make. I believe that if a policy aligns with Christian principles, it will be good for Canadian society as a whole. The way I see it, God did not give us his revealed will to make life difficult or to see if we can keep the rules. Rather, He provided the framework that would help all people live productively and healthily. So Canadians benefit as we follow God’s principles.

It’s often a challenge to know how to think Christianly about the issues before us in parliament, but I’ve come to realize that one’s ability to navigate at the interface of faith and politics depends on how well-developed one’s Christian worldview is. The years I spent at Northwest have played a big part in the formation of my worldview.

Of course it’s not enough just to think Christianly, we have to act Christianly too. When I started down this path I adopted as my guide Paul’s encouragement in Philippians 4:4: “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” That’s hard in an adversarial environment, and I haven’t always succeeded, but I keep trying.

Can you suggest some specific ways in which Christians should engage our culture positively and transformatively?

I think we need to consider two areas of involvement in our society:

First, we need to be personally involved in meeting social needs. I don’t think you can read the Bible without realizing that God is interested in social justice and that He wants us to act justly and love mercy. Acting Christianly is more than just standing up for the traditional definition of marriage. There are a lot of needy people, even in our own country: people living in poverty, without clean water, without a home, suffering from AIDS, shackled by addictions, and the list goes on. I think we should all try to be personally involved in meeting a social need.

Second, I think Christians should also consider becoming well-informed about some justice or social issue that they feel strongly about and working to influence public policy. That can be done by writing letters, sharing your views with elected officials, contributing to public forums, organizing petitions, etc. I know that currently there’s a high degree of cynicism about the political process, but politicians do listen to what their constituents have to say—especially when they realize it’s in their political best interests to do so.

I am sure your life is filled with many diverse opportunities to serve. How do you maintain the balance between family, Parliament, personal development, etc.?

I am not sure that I do all the time. There are a lot of demands in both Ottawa and the riding, and of course the weekly travel between Ottawa and Maple Ridge can be pretty tiring. But Ruth and I find that this is a good time of life to be contributing in this way. Our three children are grown and married and Ruth is able to travel with me sometimes. I’m part of a weekly Bible study on Parliament Hill and participating in a worship service at Maple Ridge Baptist is an important part of my week. I think I understand my limits and know when I need to be alone and re-charge.

As you reflect upon your experience since graduation, can you discern generally or specifically ways in which your education through Northwest has assisted you in pursuing your Christian vocation?

Well, I met Ruth, the love of my life, there more than thirty-five years ago so that was important! We’ve been on this journey together. What I learned there was very important in my spiritual formation but I think whom I learned it from was just as important. Many of my professors had a profound impact on my life—although they probably didn’t know it—as they modeled what it means to be a faithful, thoughtful Christian.

How can people be in prayer for you and Ruth?

I know that many are praying for us and that means a lot to us. For us, Micah 6:8 is a powerful word from God. Keep praying that God would teach us daily what it means to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. And pray that in the cut and thrust of the political fray that God would give me the grace to be a gentle man (Phil. 4:4). Finally, pray that I would have the wisdom to understand the issues and be able to communicate effectively so that I can be a good ambassador for Him.

Secular – Is the word useful anymore?

Secular often is used in opposition to the idea of the sacred. The Latin word saeculum, meaning this age, is the etymological root for our English word “secular”. It tends to describe a view of things that ignores the reality of God and sees natural processes or human agency as the final cause of things, eliminating God from the equation. It also comes to define a way of thinking that lacks religious sensibility.

If we intend to define some idea as ‘non-Christian’, this may not mean it is secular, it may only mean it represents religious values that are not Christian.

As we look across our Canadian social landscape, we often hear it described as a secular wasteland, particularly if our viewpoint is Christian. But when we define it as secular, is this an accurate portrayal? Is religion in fact a dead or dying influence in our Canadian reality? I would suggest that the opposite is the case. All the surveys that I have seen about the values that Canadians hold indicate a deep sense of religious commitment defines us. The sacred, defined in different ways, influences Canadians significantly. Those that would claim to be atheist are a very small minority. The vast majority of Canadians are religious people, to some degree. The role that god(s) play personally or socially will vary, but god(s) are alive and well in Canada. If we colour our society as secular, we overlook this essential religious reality. The percentage of people who adhere to a religious understanding that is non-Christian is increasing, but this does not make them secular. SpringAs we seek to express the Kingdom reality of the Gospel personally and in our faith communities, perhaps we need to revise our perception of the Canadian who is our neighbour. The odds are that our neighbours are religious people. When we seek to share our religious beliefs, they can appreciate that we are religious. They may be curious about the religious ideas and practices we follow and why such things are important to us. We may discover that they are committed to similar values – family, integrity, value of life, etc. When we share our faith and encourage them to consider the claims of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, we are in fact asking them to abandon their current religious framework, something that is often deeply intertwined with their culture and sense of personal identity. To urge them to enter into a relationship with Jesus, i.e. become Christian, requires them to engage in a deep, significant transformation. We should not be surprised that they will need time to consider such matters and evaluate the implications of such a change very carefully. We would do the same.

The percentage of people who adhere to a religious understanding that is non-Christian is increasing, but this does not make them secular.

Perhaps there are some true secularists in the neighbourhood, but they probably are a rather rare breed. Some groups in our society have a secular agenda, seeking to erase any influence or effects that religious values may exercise in Canada. However, most Canadians and most of the groups in which they are involved endorse some kind of religious perspective. Our culture essentially is a religious fabric. We should use the term ‘secular’ then with some restraint. If we intend to define some idea as ‘non-Christian’, this may not mean it is secular, it may only mean it represents religious values that are not Christian. Helping the poor and seeking justice, for instance, are profoundly religious values. Advocating for good health care expresses a desire for quality of life and compassionate concern for those who suffer. Being good stewards of the environment honours the mandate God has given for us to exercise care for His creation.

A “Cheating Culture”

A recent study conducted among undergraduate students at Canadian universities and colleges revealed that more than 50% of students surveyed admitted to “cheating on written work”. This included copying sentences from online or other sources, as well as cheating on exams. 22% of graduate students admitted to engaging in some forms of plagiarism. It is estimated that the web has led to a 5 to 10% increase in the amount of plagiarism occurring. Up to a quarter of undergraduate students falsify or fabricate lab data. Often students with high grade point averages cheat – to maintain their standing. A primary reason why students are doing this, by their own admission, is that they see leaders in business, sports and journalism, high profile cheaters, getting away with it. Sometimes cheating occurs because faculty are not teaching well or are grading in ways perceived to be unfair. Very few Canadian universities have codes of academic integrity that they require students to sign and faculty to follow. This kind of information shakes one’s faith in the educational system. How can we trust the credibility of degrees people earn if they are cheating their way to success? As critical as this concern should be, it led me to reflect on the ‘cheating culture’ that flourishes in churches. Jesus had another word for it – hypocrisy, i.e. pretending to be religiously sincere and genuine. We look around and see many people claiming to be Christian and not taking very seriously the words of Jesus. So we begin to adopt a similar kind of haphazard approach to our spirituality. Or we begin to excuse our failure to live obediently – little lies, little thefts, little jealousies, little frauds, little lusts. The cumulative effect of these little sins is terribly corrosive. The Spirit’s voice becomes less authoritative and compelling. What of the effect of this creeping hypocrisy on those outside of the Kingdom? How damaging our religious cheating becomes to the credibility of the Good News of Jesus. If we claim to love one another, but fail to demonstrate this sincerely, what good is our claim? As James says, without works, our faith is dead. A sincere and genuine love for God and others lies at the root of our Christian experience. Spiritual leaders should consider whether they are contributing to religious cheating by not making clear Jesus’ standards, or by not modeling and urging obedient discipleship. If we can reduce academic cheating through education and the use of pledges of academic integrity, surely we can take similar action to reduce religious cheating. Checking on whether religious cheating is occurring and naming it, may be one of the most effective strategies. Accountability is part of kingdom living, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15-20. The regular involvement of Christians in the Lord’s Table provides a singular opportunity to recalibrate our spiritual lives.

The Tomb of Jesus???

News media have posed the question “Has film crew found the DNA of Jesus?” or “Have we discovered the tomb of Jesus?” Journalist Simcha Jacobovici and producer James Cameron recently released a documentary film claiming that they had discovered Jesus’ tomb. Is this a credible claim? The tomb they refer to was discovered in 1980, located in Talpiyot, a suburb of Jerusalem. Within it the archaeologist Amos Kloner found six ossuaries, limestone chests in which the bones of deceased persons were placed. On these ossuaries were inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, including the names Yeshua bar Yosef, Maria, Matia (Matthew), Yose, Yehuda bar Yeshua, Mariamne or Mara. The claim is that Yeshua is Jesus, Joseph was his father, Mary refers to Jesus mother, Jesus also had a son named Judah and perhaps Mariamne was Jesus’ wife. Quite a series of claims! If we accept them, it means that the stories of Jesus’ burial in the New Testament Gospels are false! However, the data does not support the claims. First, the name “Yeshua” was very common in first century Judea. Josephus the Jewish historian refers to more than fifty different people who had this name. Second, the burial details provided in the Gospels tell a different story. Joseph of Arimathea, a pious Jew, asks Pilate for Jesus’ body so that it could be buried before Sabbath began on Friday evening at sundown. He placed the body in a rock-hewn tomb, wrapping it in a shroud and placing it in one of the niches (loculi) cut into the walls of the tomb. The entrance to the tomb was sealed with a stone. Only very wealthy people could afford a tomb of this nature. Jesus’ family was poor and Joseph of Arimathea’s actions indicate they owned no rock-hewn tomb in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Normally poorer people would be buried in an earthen grave, much as we do today. The Jewish practice was to gather the bones of deceased placed in tombs, after considerable time had passed, and place them in a ossuary, making room for other bodies to be interred. However, if the body was buried in the earth, the bones would not be dug up. So ossuaries are only associated with rock-cut tombs. According to the Gospels, when Jesus’ followers went to the tomb on Sunday morning, they found it empty. Christians believe this occurred because of the resurrection. The Jewish leadership argued that Jesus’ disciples stole the body. If they had stolen it, probably they would have buried it in an earthen grave. Either way, there would be no bones to put in an ossuary! Third, studies of the ossuaries found in Israel indicate that when a person who lived outside of Jerusalem was buried in the city, the deceased’s place of origin would be noted on the ossuary, i.e. Simon of Ptolemais (this is similar to calling Jesus “Jesus of Nazareth”). However, if the person lived in Jerusalem, then his or her ancestry would be noted, i.e. Judah son of John. In the case of the Talpiyot ossuaries, if they held the remains of Jesus’ family, one would expect that some of the people would be identified by towns outside of Jerusalem, i.e. Jesus of Nazareth. The formulae used in the inscriptions point rather to a Jerusalem family. Fourth, nowhere in any of the Gospels do we read that Jesus had a brother named Matthew. Fifth, identifying Mariamne as Mary Magdalene by interpreting the word ‘Mara’ as the Aramaic term for ‘master’ and then saying this means she was a teacher and leader, goes far beyond the data. These claims contradict the Gospel details that show conformity with known burial practices in first century Judea. Further, the claims are not consistent with what we know about the way that Jewish people buried their dead in the first century, particularly people in the poorer segments of society. Jesus rose from the dead. This ‘documentary’ film should not cast any doubt on this central feature of the Good News.

“I am in kindergarten and I know everything!”

“I am in kindergarten and I know everything!” exclaimed my granddaughter. It took me a moment to process this amazing declaration. I then realized what my problem had been – I never attended kindergarten and so I now understood why it took me twenty years to reach the end of my formal education. If only my parents had sent me to kindergarten! Girl and Grandpa Human beings have a wonderful, but dangerous tendency to think they know it all. How many times do we presume we know the truth and the right response, only to discover our perception was quite skewed! Leadership is sometimes defined as ‘sense-making’, but this human capacity for self-deception should create considerable caution in our attempts to help others make sense of their lives, individually and corporately, or make sense of an organization’s ministry. Jesus warned his followers that “if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:23). While we may not be clear about everything Jesus wanted to teach through this saying, he certainly was emphasizing the human problem of distorted perception and knowing. He said the cause lies in our human constitution – our eyes are bad! Our sinful disposition and creatureliness lead to futile thinking and living in the dark (Ephesians 4:27-24). Because of near-sightedness personally I have had to wear glasses for many years. I know how bad eyes create dangerous misconceptions. But I also know that steps can be taken to correct this handicap. Jesus encourages us to believe that our eyes can be good and our “whole body” can be “full of light” (Matthew 6:22). What steps can a ministry leader take to ensure that his or her “eyes are good” and that the sense being discerned is indeed true, valid, and trustworthy? One strategy is to make sure our loyalty is fully given to God and the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we are living with integrity and not in hypocrisy. A second help comes in realizing that God’s Spirit speaks through His people and that our collective ‘vision’ may be more accurate than one individual’s perception. Third, the greater clarity we have about Kingdom principles, the more capable we will be to discern God’s direction. Fourth, God encourages us to pray for wisdom – the ability to see things through His eyes – and He promises He will give it generously. Finally, humbleness is a critical component. We must recognize and live contentedly with our limitations, relying happily on the assistance that God provides us from others in His family. Paul warns us that without love all of our knowing is useless because we “are nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). We may be right and we may be smart and we may be clever – but without love, this sacrificial desire to bring benefit into the lives of others for the sake of Jesus – these gifs and abilities produce nothing that is useful to God. True belief creates true seeing. Discernment takes time, persistence, and considerable patience.

Doing it ‘the Lord’s Way’

In a post-Super Bowl comment, winning coach Tony Dungy is quoted as saying, ".more than anything else, Lovie Smith and I are not only African-American, but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord’s way." He doesn’t drink or rant and rave at his players or curse them. Such things are not necessary for good coaching. You can coach in the NFL using God’s values and still reach the top. The ability to control what you say reflects an attitude of heart, a personal discipline that is committed to goodness. Today, Northwest Baptist Seminary is launching a newly redesigned website. Our first desire is to promote thoughtful, godly discussion around key contemporary issues, seeking the Lord’s way in such matters to the best of our ability. Secondly, we want to provide useful resources that will help ministry leaders in churches and other Christian agencies fulfill their calling with excellence, doing things the Lord’s way. And thirdly, we want to demonstrate what it means to think Christianly, applying our minds to follow the Lord’s way. Doing things the Lord’s way is a discipline of learned obedience. Only when we know and understand the Lord’s way can we possibly discern its influence on and implications for our daily living. In his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7) Jesus pressed his followers to live the Lord’s way. Wise people will listen to him, learn and respond; fools will hear, disregard him and crash. The Lord’s way begins by going through a ‘narrow gate’, the way of salvation as Jesus defined it, and follows a pressured road, but it leads to life. The Lord’s way is not popular or the way most frequently chosen. Jesus said there were few who would find it. But he also promised that if we truly seek it, God will disclose the way and enable us to find it. The Lord’s way provides ‘the salt’ and ‘the light’ that our world needs. Our prayer is that this website will be one way through which people might discern, discover and find life in the Lord’s way.

Alumni: John (1980) and Debbie (1975) Harris

Debbie completed a Certificate in Christian Studies in 1975 and John completed an M.A. in Christian Studies in 1980 —focusing on Soren Kierkegaard. John and Debbie have been married for 30 years and have 3 married Children and 3 grandchildren.John and Debbie Harris

In the years since graduation, what kinds of ministry has God led you both to be involved in?

We are thankful for multiple opportunities for music ministry and the integration of the arts into worship in several local churches, at TWU and in Kenya, as well as taking turns as an elder and a Sunday School teacher. As we have traced the fingerprint of God’s influence in our life, we have found that God’s calling is not just the discernment of a detailed “12 point plan,” but rather, (following Os Guiness) that a “call” implies a “caller,” e.g. the relational reality that we are first called to “Someone, rather than something or somewhere.” Another important lesson we have learned is that a Christian calling also implies that – at a foundational level at least – there is not a radical disjunction between being a “paid church worker” and working in a “secular” job. Whether we possess a label as a “pastor” or a “teacher” is not the crucial issue; rather the key question is our response of love to God, of love to others and of denial of self. We have been significantly impacted by Paul’s related sentiment in 2 Cor. 4:11: “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”

I have noticed your name, John, in several local papers in recent years in regards to something called “U-connect”. Can you explain what that is?

One of the positive developments in the BC public school system and Langley School district is the priority given to developing schools of choice; there is a recognition that a diverse student population requires diverse learning opportunities. A number of years ago we were given the opportunity to implement a program (now called U-Connect) which is designed to support home-learners. If a home-based learner agrees to meet provincial learning standards and to be supervised by a teacher, we give them a number of great resources including vast curriculum resources, virtual computer-based learning options, kits, accreditation and testing. We also have a building in South Langley where most families come for one or two days a week for a variety of core subjects and innovative electives. The atmosphere is informal and family-based with core specialties in fine arts and technology. Because of the inherent flexibility of our model of home-school partnership, there is ample scope for students to aggressively pursue their educational interests. Many of our students have traveled the world by entering international competitions in internet software development and robotics technology. For example, last year a team of budding engineers won NASA’s design in excellence award at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston as they competed against other teams in the neutral buoyancy lab, replicating the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope with a sophisticated underwater robot they designed.

While I have been involved with U-Connect, Debbie has been teaching many piano students. This provides an opportunity for her to help young people to not only develop valuable character qualities such as diligence and a desire for excellence, but also to resist the trends of the commercialization of “pop-culture music” by inculcating a love for the classics. She has found that children do love the “Beethovens” and the “Bachs” if they are properly challenged. Music also provides an opportunity to connect with the church – regardless of their former exposure.

What led you to develop this vision? What do you think it is accomplishing in the lives of young people?

For many students, our model allows them to thrive educationally; for example, those who find that learning comes easily can move more quickly through the grades. Conversely, those who have learning difficulties have the advantage of much more “one-on-one” interaction at home and small class sizes at our school.

As you reflect back over your ministry experience, can you discern general or specific ways in which your education through Northwest has assisted you in pursuing God’s call?

John – Seminary is a valuable investment to enrich the quality of our spiritual lives. In the midst of the hectic demands of a typical career, it is difficult to find time to think about and connect with God and to contemplate the crucial questions of life. Like most domains of knowledge in the last few years, the volume of research in biblical studies has exploded. I benefited by having the sharp literary “eyes” of trained theologians to help distill the truly important data and to provide the interpretive tools necessary for life-long Biblical learning. Secondly, seminary was a time when we could discern our giftedness as we interacted with mentors who helped us discern the “shape of our souls.” Thirdly, our relationships with our peers extended from exciting classroom stimulation to lifelong friendships. The crux of the matter is this: without this experience, the Bible would have remained for us a two-dimensional book; seminary added that illuminating third dimension. It is tragically easy for my mind to cruise year after year in a conceptual “auto-pilot” mode. Seminary gave me an opportunity to step out of the “mental ruts” and see the bigger picture of God’s purposes and person.

Debbie – From the vantage point of “looking back” I am thankful for the influence of my year at Northwest in shaping my Christian faith. The call to love God with all my mind was shaped by courses such as New Testament Survey which taught me that the Bible is more than a few well-known verses. I was drawn into what has become a lifelong thirst to know how God is dealing with the whole of human history as well as in my personal life. The call to love our neighbours as ourselves, in my role as a wife, mother, and music teacher, was shaped by other courses such as Foundations for Christian Living with its emphasis on the agape principle. And living in residence created a great balance between studying and loving people.

We are now well into the first decade of the 21st century. What has changed in the way Christians look at their surrounding culture and seek to engage it, since you graduated?

I think Christians are more interested in the social dimensions to discipleship than they were three decades ago. Also, Christians are putting a great deal of thought towards harnessing the internet communications revolution. Any technological revolution is always a “double edged sword.” In our era technology greatly multiplies the number of communicative choices, yet church leaders are finding that expanding choices seem to be correlated with lower levels of church commitment. Also, while the internet gives access to a virtual “universe” of knowledge in our back pockets, the internet style of communication – with its millions of disassociated “searches” and “clicks” – tends to fragment knowledge, disseminating it in short, sketchy, entertaining bite-sized bits. Many pastors are finding that the “bite-sized” mentality creates a less than receptive audience for serious expositional sermons!

Many people think that Seminary education only relates to people who are thinking of becoming pastors or missionaries. Obviously, this is not how God has led you, yet He has given you a very significant ministry. Do you think seminary education has relevance for Christians whose calling lies outside these traditional areas of vocational service? Why?

Some would argue that “real-world” experience is a more important rubric of success than the theological understanding implied in a seminary degree. My question for this attitude is this: Why do we need to choose between the “understanding” of seminary and the “experience” of the real world? Regardless of whether you are a pastor or a missionary or a computer programmer, you are called to become a certain type of person – an image-bearer of Jesus. Part of being an image bearer involves a deepening understanding of Who you are imaging. Seminary provides a unique setting and opportunity for this to occur.

“Courageous Leadership”

Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervans, 2002) 253 pages, paperback.

This book is written from the heart. Bill Hybels packs into these pages key lessons and good advice about pastoral leadership that he has learned and continues to learn through his involvement with the Willow Creek Church and its Association. He is convinced that the local church is the hope of the world, but it needs courageous leaders. “[L]ocal church leaders have the potential to be the most influential force on planet earth. If they ‘get it,’ and get on with it, churches can become the redemptive centers that Jesus intended them to be”[12]. So after thirty years of ministry, Hybels shares what in his opinion this kind of church leadership is all about.

With many personal illustrations Hybels walks us through the various dimensions of ministry leadership. He centres his discussion in the fact, function and potential of the local church. But then argues that “the outcome of the redemptive drama being played out on planet Earth will be determined by how well church leaders lead”[27]. For this reason church leaders must take their role seriously, be committed to developing their gifts and abilities fully, and then be willing to act courageously for the good of the Kingdom. However, the bottom line remains “the Acts 2 church” [27].

In the course of his book Hybels considers the singular importance of vision and its implementation. Team ministry ranks high in his estimation. Both financial and personnel resource development must be priorities. And then the most important element, a leader’s self-development, occupies the last six chapters. Personally, I think these last six chapters are the best in the volume because they draw readers into deep reflection upon their own leadership journey and challenge them to be very intentional about this. If ministry leaders neglect self-development, they risk losing everything God has called them to be and to do.

A key component to the courageous leadership that Hybels encourages is the defining vision. Hybels states that “when a church needs a God-honoring, kingdom-advancing, heart-thumping vision, it turns to its leaders. That’s because God put in the leader’s arsenal the potent offensive weapon called vision” [31]. He defines vision as “a picture of the future that produces passion” [32]. I wonder how Hybels would distinguish between vision and calling? A vision is bound up with a leader’s very life. “That’s why God made you a leader. That’s your unique calling”[37], he claims. But are vision and calling the same?

I think Hybels would agree that every believer in Jesus has a calling. If this is so, then logically all believers should also have a vision for how that calling should find expression in their lives. So what makes a “leader’s vision” different? Or perhaps that is not the right question. Perhaps we need to ask whether the ministry leader’s function in a local church is to help the whole body discern how to integrate their personal callings and visions and direct them towards building an Acts 2 church. If we operate on the assumption that only the ministry leader sees the vision and then has to communicate this vision to the local church, are we in fact eliminating from the equation the very resource the Holy Spirit has given to the church to produce the growth of the church, namely the whole body?

Vision development in the local church must be seen as a community function. To try to cast vision from the top down makes the local church vulnerable when ministry leaders move. Such a process may work in a corporation, but when applied to the local church it fails to embrace the richness of perspective and the significant role that every member should play in vision development. Yes, ministry leaders must take responsibility to ensure that the process works and they certainly will have a very influential part to play, but the vision cannot be only theirs.

Calling relates to our position in Christ and the natural and spiritual endowments that He gives to us. Vision, perhaps, seeks to define in specific times and spaces how that calling will be lived out.

I found it intriguing that from time-to-time in his book Hybels mentions the elders of his church. He certainly honours them and consults with them. However, it is very difficult to discern exactly how his spiritual leadership integrates with their spiritual leadership. It seems that his ministry team is far more significant for the building up of his local church than the elders. Does he consider the elders as part of the ministry team? I am sure he would answer in the affirmative. However, such a perspective, while perhaps implied, is not stated.

How then do ‘courageous leaders’ in local churches relate to their fellow elders? Are elders truly spiritual leaders who carry the responsibility for the spiritual nurture and health of the local church? Hybels spends considerable time talking about the qualities he looks for in new ministry leaders, but does not discuss the question of selecting elders. He describes the importance of working carefully and wisely with ministry colleagues, but has nothing to say about his work and relationships with his elders. Perhaps this will be the subject for a subsequent volume.

This silence about the elders’ role begs the question whether ‘courageous leadership’ in a local church has any necessary connection with the elders’ team (however this may be defined). Finding good processes to integrate the respective contributions of the elder’s team and the ministry leadership team in a local church has to be an essential priority for the lead pastor if there is to be harmony, vitality, and growth.

Finally (and here I let my bias show more explicitly) Hybels does not appreciate the courageous leadership development that happens in seminaries. On the one hand he has good things to say about the influence of Dr. Bilezikian’s teaching in his life during college days. On the other hand his characterization of teachers seems to be quite one-dimensional. “[O]nly leaders can develop other leaders and create a leadership culture. Teachers can’t do it. Administrators can’t do it”[122]. I wonder what Hybels thinks motivates many seminary teachers to devote their lives to such vocation? Could it be that they have a passion to develop good ministry leaders? Could it be that they have significant ministry leadership experience and giftedness themselves and discern the seminary context as being a primary means by which to fulfill their calling to multiply ministry leaders? Could it be that seminaries consider as central to their mission the development of godly ministry leaders who can do the job effectively? Seminaries by and large seek to involve good ministry leaders as faculty for the development of the next generation of ministry leaders. I am undoubtedly defensive about this because of my involvement in seminary ministry. However, I do think Hybels’ characterization does not do justice to the passion and ability many seminary faculty bring to the daunting task of participating in the formation of the next generation of courageous ministry leaders. Undoubtedly it will require all of the resources of the church – local church, seminary, and denominational leadership – to get this job done well.

The questions I raise should not deter you from buying and reading Hybels’ book. You will enjoy it and be challenged.

November 2005.

“Ascent of a Leader”

Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, Ken McElrath, The Ascent of a Leader. How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence (San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999): i-xiii, 1-203

The three authors are all involved in various aspects of leadership development, building primarily upon experience in the corporate world, but with a commitment to following Jesus. As they say in the preface, they are exploring the definition and foundations of influence as the key to good leadership practice. Relationships and the environment in which we experience them are the key elements in developing good leadership. Their worldview is expressly Christian, although they seek to write for a larger audience, one that does embrace a relationship with God as significant.

The fundamental premise of their book is that “character – the inner world of motives and values that shapes our actions – is the ultimate determiner of the nature of our leadership. It empowers our capacities while keeping them in check.”(p.1). The goal is “to become the kind of leader whom others want to follow”(p.1). They write for people who desire to be leaders and to achieve their leadership potential. In their view, this cannot be accomplished merely by one’s own personal abilities, but is dependent upon “a certain kind of environment in which to live and work” (p.1) and relationships “to help you become more than a leader” (p.1).

They contrast two ‘ladders’. The first is a ‘short ladder’ that commonly is the focus of leadership development. They call it the “Capacity Ladder” (figure 2.1). It exists in environments of “mistrust and ungrace [sic]” (figure 4.1) and within relationships of “power and leverage”. This is the ladder that most people try to climb in order to become successful leaders, using their capacities and position to achieve potential. The authors reject this ‘ladder to success’ because it is fundamentally flawed by selfishness and has no centre of virtue.

What they put in its place, or rather seek to integrate with the ‘capacity ladder’ is the ‘Character Ladder’ (figure 10.1). People ascend this ladder by creating environments and relationships of grace. They have a deep trust in God that allows them to embrace humility, submission, obedience, and suffering/maturity, while being willing to “choose vulnerability”, “align with truth”, and “pay the price” in order to “discover (their) destiny”.

The authors believe that “our culture [i.e. American culture] is ready for leaders who climb a different ladder”(180). They have had enough of leaders who strive for their destiny purely on the basis of the capacity ladder. Their vision is for leaders who will pay the price to climb the ladder of success that integrates character and capacity (figure 10.2). Only leaders of this kind can truly help us shape and develop environments of grace.

The authors incorporate some stirring examples of people who, in their view, have demonstrated the values intrinsic to the character ladder. There are also times when they do reflect on the teachings of Jesus as foundational for their argument. As well, they encourage all people to consider themselves to be leaders in some respect and context.

The focus upon character as essential to good leadership, particularly good leadership in the church, is certainly welcome. For too long leadership has tended to be seen primarily as a toolkit of techniques and skills. Paul’s outline of ministry leadership qualifications such as is found in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1 certainly focuses upon character, but character that is empowered and shaped by the Holy Spirit.

The idea of environments and relationships filled with grace also merits serious consideration as a way to conceive of family, church, and corporate contexts. Here again a fundamental biblical principle gets woven into their argument. They urge leaders to ‘align with the truth’ and again we applaud this biblical mandate.

In the midst of these positives, I think there are at least three cautions that have to be expressed. First, the symbolism of the ladder carries connotations that jar, in my view, with the vision of Christian leadership. In the Gospels discipleship tends to be symbolized by a journey, following Jesus, and in this posture expressing God’s calling to love others through sacrificial service. Ladders convey a sense of hierarchy. In the business and professional world people do conceive of their progress as climbing the corporate ladder or getting to the peak of one’s discipline. However, in the context of Christian ministry, these are not helpful metaphors because they tend to be self-focused, power-laden, and expressive of ambition. I do not think the author’s desire is to express these things through the symbol they chose, but regardless these are inherent dangers. The picture Paul gives us of the Messiah in Philippians 2:5-11, as he carries out God’s will in human history, is a downward journey, like descending a staircase. There is no ascent until after the resurrection.

Second, although the authors seek to ground the development of character in religious experience, how valid is this premise? Yes, we can agree that religious instinct can motivate diverse people to altruistic service. However, it can also move people to acts of incredible hatred and hostility. I think Paul has it right when he argues that without love, all of our efforts lack worth and lasting value. In Paul’s view this love is God’s love poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Good ministry leadership that is selfless and loving has to be the product of the Holy Spirit’s incredible work in our lives. The ideal the authors put forward cannot be achieved without the continual work of God’s Spirit in the lives of individuals and communities.

Third, the authors have a very specific view about the way virtue works in a human being.

The heart – the inner life, shaped primarily by trust – molds our motives. Our motives establish our values. And our values govern our actions. What we believe about ourselves takes root and is nourished in our hearts. And it’s from the heart that our destiny — our ultimate influence and value – flows.(63)

The authors do expand on what they mean by trust. However, the concept of ‘motive’ does not receive much explicit attention in their volume. The word is not listed in the index. I could not find any definition of it in their work. Yet, it sits at the most crucial juncture – between heart and values. Unless we are clear about our motives, our ultimate loyalties (i.e. to love God, to serve God, to advance God’s purposes), we will not be clear about our values or our actions. Perhaps the authors feel they have addressed this, but in different terms. If so, a clearer connection needs to be made.

The authors offer an interesting discussion of the complex relationship between capacity and character (or competency and spirituality). Sometimes the call of God, our destiny, is not to the pinnacle of power, but rather is to the humiliation of a cross. If this is so then leadership in Christian terms must be our descent to humble, suffering service as our only ascent. It is this paradox that Jesus expressed in his words to the apostles – “whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43).

Reviewed November 1, 2005.

“Jesus on Leadership”

C.Gene Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership. Discovering the Secrets of Servant Leadership from the Life of Christ (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Ltd., 1998), 251 pages. Paperback.

Evangelicals seek to ground their faith and practice in the authority of God’s word. Gene Wilkes, in his examination of Jesus’ words and practices in relationship to Christian leadership, has done us all a wonderful service in drawing us back to careful reflection on shepherding God’s flock the way Jesus did. Wilkes has pastured Legacy Drive Baptist Church in Plano, Texas since 1987. His book arises from his own experience and deep reflections upon the nature of Christian leadership as it is practiced in the setting of a large, Baptist church in the southern United States. He also brings to the task the competency of a biblical scholar, drawing upon his Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

There is much to applaud in Wilkes re-examination of “Jesus on leadership”. The refocusing on Christian leadership as essentially service seeks to capture the heart of Jesus’ message and model as the Suffering Servant. Wilkes distills the key aspects of Jesus’ leadership style in seven principles: humbleness, following God’s will – not position, greatness through serving, risk-taking, serving others without regard to personal prestige, shared responsibility and authority, and team-building to carry out mission. Each of these principles is a significant element in the Jesus leadership model as expressed in the Gospels.

Yet, I was unable to buy into several of Wilkes key assumptions because I think they are inherently contradictory to the seven principles he discerns.

Wilkes focuses correctly on the importance of mission and vision as keys to the health and vitality of the local church. God’s Kingdom purpose and plans must find expression and embodiment in the life of the faith community. In Wilkes view it seems that the “servant leader” is the one who discerns the mission, expresses the vision, and then seeks to gain the support of other Jesus followers to carry it out. As Wilkes says in his first chapter

The leader then sees a picture of what the mission looks like in the future and casts his vision of that mission to others. Vision is a leader’s unique rendering of the mission. Leadership turns to service when the leader equips those recruited to carry out the now shared mission.[1]

The paradox is that Wilkes argues that service is at the centre of leadership, but seems to hold that it is the leader’s sense of the mission and vision that determines everything. Others in the body give themselves in service to his mission. Wilkes does not tell us how it becomes a “now shared mission”. It seems it is only shared if people are willing to support it. Wilkes says

Every leader has an agenda – the ultimate mission she has been called to. When others begin to see that agenda, the leader has done her job! When she states her intentions clearly, she gives followers the opportunity to accept the plan or seek to end them.[2]

Now it is true that in God’s Kingdom, His mission is dominant. Jesus calls us to follow him and give our lives in service to His mission – the Great Commission. However, we do not find in the Gospels any mandate to some of Jesus’ followers to make their perception of how God’s mission should be accomplished determinative for other believers. Even in the case of Paul, it is the Antioch church collectively that discerns with Paul what the Holy Spirit is saying about a mission to the Gentiles that leads them to dispatch Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-3) to fulfill the work that God had saved them to accomplish for His Kingdom.

The perspective of the New Testament is much more collective and community-based when it comes to discerning God’s mission for the church and its vision of ministry. The spiritual care-givers assist the church in discerning God’s mission for them together and then encouraging, equipping, and supporting the accomplishment of that mission and vision together. Here is where the fundamental ‘serving’ of those entrusted as ‘elders’ finds expression. If we follow Wilkes’ perspective on this issue, we run the danger of violating the very principle of ‘serving’ that he is seeking to promote. Every believer is called by God and given Kingdom work to do. It is a primary role of the ones entrusted with shepherding responsibility to enable each believer to integrate their personal mission with the collective mission of the local church.

One of the analogies that Wilkes uses throughout his presentation is that of the ‘head-table’.[3] He urges servant-leaders to disavow the pursuit of status as something integral with leadership in the church. The head-table represents for Wilkes status and becomes a symbol of wrongfully ambitious striving. A key text Wilkes uses in this regard is Luke 14:11 “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” As he reflects on this principle, Wilkes concludes that “Jesus taught that head table seats are ‘by invitation only’ rather than ‘by hook or by crook’.”[4] He uses the example of Joseph to demonstrate this principle, as “God elevated him to a place where he could see.dreams fulfilled.”[5] In his comments on ‘waiting’ he suggests that “expectant waiting is waiting for God to exalt you.”[6] His conclusion is that “the first principle of servant leadership is ‘servant leaders humble themselves and wait for God to exalt them’.”[7]

This principle is biblical and true. Potential confusion emerges as to when exaltation occurs. For example, is Joseph’s position in Egypt the exaltation that God promised for Joseph or is it merely the role that God has for Joseph to accomplish as His servant? If we interpret ‘exaltation’ as being appointed to some position on earth, even in the church, then perhaps we are misplacing the emphasis of Jesus. Shepherding and service in the church require sacrifice, suffering and enslavement to loving others. In the context of 1 Peter the apostle reflects upon the “unfading crown of glory” that will be presented when Jesus appears once again. It is an eschatological exaltation that I would suggest Jesus has in mind, as well as Peter and Paul. If we think that our service for God normally should result in an exaltation to ‘head-table’, i.e. to some position of authority and prestige here and now, then we have, I would suggest, misconstrued the essence of Jesus’ principle. This may not be a major issue in the overall presentation of Wilkes’ thesis. However, it allows for misunderstanding to occur.

The third issue concerns the exegesis of Acts 6 that Wilkes uses as the basis for promoting the concept of distributed authority. There is much to commend in his interpretation of this passage. However, I would suggest he goes beyond the scope of the passage when he argues that “the apostles multiplied their leadership by delegating some of their responsibility and authority to others in order to meet the needs of the fellowship.”[8] I think Wilkes overlooks the involvement of the “multitude of the disciples” (Acts 6:2) in this process. It is true that “the twelve” discern the issue and make a proposal to the disciples. However, it is the disciples who evaluate the proposal and support it. They choose (6:5) the seven and present them to the apostles (6:6) for recognition. It is the collective church community that agrees with the proposal for a division of labour. There is no sense that the seven are accountable to the twelve or in some sense ‘delegated authority’ by the twelve. The seven are expected to look after this responsibility in the best way possible.

Further, Luke is very careful to note that whether people in the church are teaching the word or caring for practical needs in the church, they are all engaged in diakonia (6: 2, 4). There is no sense that one kind of ‘service’ is inferior to or less important than another. In fact it is precisely members of this group of seven that immediately are reported to be engaged in proclaiming the word of God through evangelism (i.e. Stephen).

The twelve discerned the need, made a proposal to resolve it to the church, and the disciples, i.e. the Christians in the Jerusalem church, agreed and selected those they thought would work well in this ministry. If we do not honour and respect the involvement of the faith community in such decisions, we endanger the entire concept of servant leadership, i.e. serving the people of God and enabling the body to bring about the growth of the body (Ephesians 4:16).

Studying and reflecting upon Jesus’ principles about serving as the heart of discipleship is a critical and healthy corrective. Our understanding of ‘leadership’ in the context of the church can only be enriched if we incorporate the ideas of service into the very fabric of our church life.

Reviewed May 30, 2005

1 Page 19
2 Page 66,67
3 Page 35f
4 Page 36
5 Page 47
6 Page 51
7 Page 56
8 Page 185

Alumni: Vern (1963) and Helen (u1960) Middleton

Dr. Vern Middleton is a Northwest alumnus (B.Div. 1963) and Professor Emeritus of Missions and Evangelism at [email protected] We took this opportunity to connect with him and listen to his continued heartbeat for global missions and for Northwest Alumni.

Vern, you have had a long and rich history here at Northwest. What year did you start teaching here? What were the highlights of your years at Northwest?

I started teaching at Northwest in August of 1976. Our family returned from India in July of that year, after serving 12 years there and I joined the faculty of Northwest in August.

The years 1976 – 80 were an exciting period in the history of Northwest. The synergism among the faculty, the quality of the students and the vision of Dr. Howard Anderson created a very dynamic environment in which to teach.

The 1980s was a decade of transition – in terms of location – in terms of a new vision for the creation of ACTS at Trinity Western University – in terms of my own academic development and the discipline of Ph.D. studies.

Two developments at Northwest over almost three decades of ministry brought great satisfaction. One was the steady stream of young men and women who graduated from Northwest with a strong determination to serve the Lord in pastoral ministry or to serve in some missionary endeavour. What I found especially rewarding was the fact that the number of people who became ministry or missionary casualties was significantly lower from Northwest than from other Bible Colleges and Seminaries. The second factor was the large number of students who became church planters. Northwest has produced several outstanding church planters who have each planted 5 to 15 churches during their ministry life-span.

What does "retirement" consist of for you? Tell us a little about what gets this missiologist up in the morning! We hear snippets of an India connection!

Retirement is still very full of meaningful activity and ministry. I continue to serve on four mission boards. Fellowship International Ministries is our denominational mission board and I am on the executive of that board. CityTeam is based in San Jose but is global in its scope and involvement. I am energized by their vision and their creativity. Missionsfest is a third mission board I serve on and I am on the telephone with the director at least once a week. I also serve on the IMTB [India Missionary Training Board] that raises funds for ministries in India. I just returned from my third trip to India in less than one year as my heart and love for that country and her peoples highly motivates me.

Since retirement I have gone high tech – in that I have purchased a lap top and an LCD projector. I have been engaged in transforming my old course notes into Power Point presentations. In the meantime the Lord has opened up several doors of opportunity to teach in places like YCLT, Yavatmal, a missionary training college in India, the Katmandu Institute of Theology, which is a graduate school in Nepal, and Union Biblical Seminary in Pune, India. The only restraint upon me for these ministries is a need for funds to travel which amounts to $2500 per round trip.

The Lord continues to provide Helen and me with good health – so as the Lord gives us days so we want to use them for the extension of His Kingdom. This is what gets us up in the morning. By the way I also serve on the leadership team of our local church and I have the privilege of being a volunteer pastor.

As well, I am involved as a World Perspectives teacher. These opportunities give me much joy and satisfaction.Still another involvement is with Northwest Alumni – I have the delight of regular contact with numerous alumni both on a formal and informal basis. I also have e-mail contact with fifteen Northwest alumni serving in various countries of the world.

As you look back on your years of teaching in missions and evangelism, and your involvement with Northwest students and alumni – how would you evaluate Northwest’s impact on the Kingdom of God? How have Northwest Alumni contributed in terms of vision, mobilization, cultural transformation, of understanding and grappling with the missiological issues of the day—in terms of simply taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth?

It is hard to answer these questions in general statements so I will cite various alumni who have made significant contributions to the kingdom of God. First, in terms of vision, Carlos San Lui (Master of Ministry 1988) began the first Filipino evangelical Baptist church in greater Vancouver. Within a year he started a second church in Surrey and while planting that church, he traveled every Sunday down to Seattle to start another church. By 1983 he moved to Portland and planted three churches in that city, then he moved to the Oakland-Bay area and started three churches there. Next he moved to the Fresno – Sacramento area and started two churches there. In the early 1990s he moved to Orlando, Florida and again started several churches there when his life was taken through a terrible accident. He had a vision to plant Filipino churches in every city in North America.

In terms of mobilization, Dan Chapman (1967) has been a catalytic agent in the lives of numerous young couples who have become our church planters and kingdom builders in new communities throughout BC.

In terms of cultural transformation, Rod (1979,81,96) and Donna (1979) Black come to mind as innovative people in the area of ethnomusicology and the use of ethnic music forms as a medium of entrance into the hearts and minds of people groups hardened to traditional patterns of evangelism. They will be returning to Asia this Spring and will begin to develop whole new patterns of sharing Christ. Don (1965) and Georgia Rendle and now Sharon were powerful change agents for Christ in many countries of Latin America. Certainly their ministries have made a major kingdom impact on patterns of justice, understanding of penal institutions and making a direct impact on hundreds of political prisoners with the transforming love of Christ. Don’s son Geordan (1984) has followed in his parent’s footsteps and is being used of God in many Latin American countries.

In terms of grappling with missiological issues, Mark Naylor (1984) and his e-mail publication “Cross-cultural Impact in the 21st Century” [see for previous issues] is certainly provocative. Another grad who is making a mark in this area is Chuck Fletcher (1991) at McGill.

Finally in terms of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth it would take several pages to mention all who are worthy for this category. I have many pictures of graduating students from Northwest who now serve in remarkably diverse places around the world. Perhaps one whole Alumni publication could be dedicated to featuring our grads in Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Nepal, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Philippines, Maldives, Poland, Thailand, etc.

We are now well into the first decade of the 21st century. What issues and opportunities do you see the church facing today and in the days ahead? – What challenge would you place before Northwest Alumni? – How would you challenge [email protected]?

It seems to me that the intensity of the battle for the Kingdom of God has greatly increased in recent years. Certainly our Lord is very active in shaking the physical realms and the spiritual realms as predicted in Haggai 2:6,7 and Hebrews 12:26-29. Globalization is having a positive impact for the Gospel – but it also introduces a lot of sinful ideas to the worldwide market. What amazes me is the economic prosperity emerging in Asia and a few parts of Africa. A new population of middle class citizens is rapidly emerging in India, Malaysia, China, Korea, and the Philippines. These globalized peoples all speak English and are very much aware of the Judeo-Christian worldview. If I had the gift of prophesy I would predict the possibility of a great spiritual harvest among the millions of middle class entrepreneurs.

In your years with Northwest you have taught in both the college and seminary. What would you say to an alumna or alumnus who was considering enrolling at [email protected] in a masters or doctoral level program?

The faculty and administrators at Northwest are highly qualified in their respective areas of ministry. They combine excellence with caring, relational support and encouragement for all of the students of Northwest. These factors combined with good scholarship assistance and a support plan for those involved in our churches makes [email protected] ACTS an unbeatable place in which to study.

Mark’s Language of Religious Conflict As Rhetorical Device

The application of literary criticism to the Synoptic Gospels has stimulated many new readings of Mark’s[1] Gospel. In particular one application of rhetorical criticism[2] invites the interpreter to discern the various ways in which the author seeks to direct the implied reader to a specific conclusion. In the case of Mark’s Gospel attention has turned to elements such as characterization, the insertion of editorial comments, and the use of irony, to mention only a few of the proposed, authorial markers. For example, the way in which the authority of Jesus’ words receives emphasis, coupled with his dramatic actions, encourages the reader to pay particular attention to his teaching in contrast to what the Jewish religious leaders might say. Or, Mark’s instruction at 13:14, "let the reader understand," seems to be an editorial comment[3] asking the reader to consider carefully the implication of Jesus’ words. Many writers also have commented on Mark’s use of irony, particularly in the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and death[4]. Each of these devices in their own way, implicitly or explicitly, seeks to guide the reader to a specific understanding of the events described in Mark’s narrative and a particular, personal response to "the gospel of Jesus, Messiah, Son of God."[5]

One means which the author uses to convince his reader that the claims made in the narrative about Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus’ particular vision of Israel are true and compelling involves the language of religious conflict.[6] Charges or warnings of blasphemy, curses, and derisive statements or stories find expression both on the lips of Jesus as well as in the words of his opponents. While some would argue that such language vents the anti-Judaism[7], or worse, the anti-Semitism of the emerging Christian church, others have demonstrated that such verbal forms were normal weapons employed to establish competing claims between rival religious groups within Judaism.[8] Such expressions employed in Mark’s construction of Jesus’ ministry highlight the ‘clash of authorities’ which Jesus’ activities created in first-century Judaism.[9] It is the purpose of this article to explore and define several of the ways by which Mark[10] uses the language and activity of religious conflict rhetorically to persuade his reader to accept the authority of Jesus’ words and reject the counterclaims of his opponents.[11]

Within Mark’s narrative five ‘characters’ primarily[12] interact – Jesus, the disciples, his extended family, the crowds (sometimes individualized in a specific person such as Jairus), and Jewish religious leaders of various kinds. Jesus, as the prologue to this narrative demonstrates (Mark 1:1-13)[13], occupies the central position and the other ‘characters’ gain certain definition as they interact with him. The focus of the action in the story usually follows two lines – how is Jesus responding to the ‘character’ in that event and how is the ‘character’ responding to Jesus?[14] For example, Jesus’ first speaking engagement to a crowd in a Galilean synagogue (1:21-28) begins with a description of his teaching (vs.21-22). But then the story narrows to the exchange between Jesus and the "man in an unclean spirit". At the conclusion we observe the response of the crowd in the synagogue to Jesus’ exorcism and teaching.[15] Although Jesus in this story responds to the crowd and also to the individual in the crowd, these interactions happen sequentially, with the crowd moving into the background as Jesus challenges the unclean spirit’s control of this person. The crowd emerges once again in vs. 27-28 as its reaction to Jesus’ teaching and actions is recorded. Everyone is ‘fearfully perplexed’ (e*qambhvqhsan[16] [email protected]"), because they do not know what to make of this astonishing event, as well as the teaching of Jesus which accompanies it. The deep impression which Jesus makes upon this crowd gains concrete expression as Mark ends the story with the comment that the whole region of Galilee learned of Jesus’ reputation.

Jesus responds to the crowd by teaching and to the demon-possessed man by releasing him from that spirit’s control. The man/demon obeys Jesus and the crowd are duly astonished. Such binary (i.e. actions between two parties) interactions lead the reader to ask the same question posed by people in the crowd ("What is this? A new teaching with authority?" (1:27)). As well, Jesus’ total command over this evil spirit and the freedom the man experiences as a result, encourages the reader to consider how Jesus’ authority might bring healing to his or her personal context. Fundamentally, the reader comes face-to-face with the issue of Jesus’ authority (e*xousiva). The reader must begin the process of evaluating this authority and coming to some estimate of its reality and implication. Mark’s use of key words such as e*xousiva, the title the demoniac uses to address Jesus ("the Holy One of God"),  and the rhetorical questions embedded in the story intentionally guide the readers to focus on specific issues.[17]

Mark’s narrative continually defines Jesus’ authority through situations of conflict. In 1:21-28 the response to Jesus, whether that of the demon or the crowd, consistently recognizes his authority. As we move into the series of interchanges retold in 2:1-3:6 we encounter a different set of responses.[18] Jesus is accused of blaspheming (2:7), his social practices are attacked (2:16), his religious laxness is questioned (2:18; 2:24; 3:2), and as a result a conspiracy arises between the Pharisees and Herodians for his execution (3:6).  The groups responding to Jesus in this fashion have various descriptions:

2:6 some of the scribes (tine" tw’n grammatevwn)

2:16 the scribes of the Pharisees (oi& grammatei’" tw’n Farisaivwn)

2:18 the disciples of John and the Pharisees (oi& maqhtaiV *Iwavnnou kaiV oi& Farisai’oi)

2:24 the Pharisees (oi& Farisai’oi)

3:6 the Pharisees…with the Herodians (oi& Farisai’oi…metaV tw’n  &Hrw/dianw’n)

While there is some variation, one group consistently occurs; the Pharisees. Mark does not define who this group is or what they believe. He expects his reader to have some awareness or to figure out from the clues in the text that they are a Jewish religious group of some prominence. In 3:22 we learn that ‘the scribes’ come from Jerusalem. Their preoccupation with issues such as fasting, sabbath observance, relationships with ‘sinners’, and God’s reputation, allows the readers, if they were not acquainted with these Jewish groups, to gain some idea of their religious context and practices. The prominence of the Pharisees in this series of stories suggests that they have a special interest in Jesus’ activities, i.e. perhaps they are wanting to discern whether Jesus really is Messiah as Mark declares (1:1), as well as some recognized religious authority. The repeated response of these religious groups, especially the Pharisees, towards Jesus is characterized as negative and condemnatory.

As we trace the involvement of these Jewish religious groups in these stories (2:1-3:6), their relationship to the action varies. Yet, by whatever means Mark chooses, it is Jesus’ response to these people or their response to him which ends up being at the centre of each account. For example, in 2:1-12 the first five verses of the story focus entirely upon the paralyzed man and Jesus’ response to his need. It is Jesus’ pronouncement "Your sins are forgiven" (vs.5) which precipitates the entrance of the scribes into the story. They regard such a statement as ‘blasphemy’ (i.e. a slander against God) because in their mind only God has the right and authority to forgive sins. For Jesus to assume this ability is an affront to God, in their opinion. As Mark articulates these thoughts in the story, the whole account shifts and begins to deal with the religious question of Jesus’ authority, rather than the plight of the paralyzed man. The serious charge of blasphemy expressed by the silent, rhetorical question of the scribes, again draws the attention of the readers to this issue. Although in the end the man is healed, the reader is left wondering whether the scribes participated finally with the rest of the people[19] in declaring their astonishment, giving glory to God, and exclaiming "we have never seen anything like this!" Perhaps the scribes altered their initial charge of blasphemy[20] when they saw the man get up and walk away at Jesus’ command.

As the other stories follow, each one in its own unique fashion, whether through a question addressed directly to Jesus or to his followers by religious leaders, or through its description of their silent, accusatory scrutiny of Jesus’ actions (3:2), keeps the readers’ attention riveted upon this dramatic interaction. As others have observed, the first and last stories combine elements of confrontation with miracle[21] – the total healing of the person’s malady in irrefutable terms. In response to Jesus’ command the paralyzed man gets up and carries his bedroll home in front of everybody (2:11-12), with everyone, including the scribes, astonished. In the concluding story the man extends his withered hand and discovers its perfect restoration (3:6), as everybody looks on, but now the Pharisees and Herodians enter into conspiracy to kill Jesus. In between Jesus responds to the three religious questions addressed to him with authoritative pronouncements about his power (i.e. "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" (2:28)) and his mission (i.e. "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (2:17)), or with parabolic riddles (i.e. about wineskins, garment repairs and marriage customs (2:19-22)) which explain in some way to Jesus’ audience and to Mark’s readers the significance of his presence and message. Jesus never retreats from these confrontations.

The notice of conspiracy to kill Jesus with which this sequence of stories concludes (3:6) leaves the reader in a quandry.[22] Given the endorsement of Jesus by God Himself in the prologue ("You are my beloved son; in you I take pleasure" (1:11)), as well as the astonishing things which Jesus does (i.e. casting out demons, healing lepers, enabling paralyzed people to walk, etc.), how is the reader to make any sense of the religious leaders’ response to Jesus? Their questions and accusations demonstrate an increasing gap between Jesus’ claims and their respect for those claims. On the one hand the religious leaders accuse Jesus of blasphemy. This is a serious, religious charge, which, if true, would disqualify Jesus from any consideration as Messiah or even prophet. Along with this, they claim that he shows no respect for Jewish religious practice or traditions, refusing to fast and failing to observe sabbath rites, as they define them. So serious is all of this in their view that Jesus must be destroyed before he does serious damage in Israel. His teachings have no authority and his claims must be rejected. On the other hand, God has endorsed Jesus, Mark claims that Jesus’ presence fulfills the promise of the Jewish sacred writings, Jesus demonstrates a power which certainly exceeds normal human ability, and his teachings have a prophetic ring to them. So what are the readers to believe? Which kind of response should characterize their reaction to Jesus? Which evaluation should they trust? What are the consequences of their decision?

Jesus’ analysis of the religious leaders’ response creates more uncertainty. In 3:5, as Mark describes Jesus’ action, he claims that Jesus is "grieved at the hardness of their hearts"[23] and he is angry (met * o*rgh’") at their refusal to accept what God is doing through him. He accuses them of failing to understand their own sacred writings (2:24f), based upon which they are judging him. He warns them that their view of their own ‘righteousness’ is faulty (2:17) and that they must reassess their entire religious understanding in the light of the ‘bridegroom’ who has come (2:19-20).  So the readers have some hard choices to consider. Whose rhetoric and hermeneutic will they believe – that of Jesus, partially supported by the crowds and the disciples, or that of the contemporary Jewish religious leaders? The strong language which each party uses to define the other demonstrates the clear alternatives. The readers can side with Jesus and accept the curse pronounced by the religious leaders, or they can identify with the religious leaders and share with them the accusation made by Jesus of a hard-hearted attitude to God’s initiative and failure to understand God’s purposes.

The accusation of blasphemy is not the sole property of the Jewish religious leaders. At the end of chapter 3 Mark tells two, intercalated stories, both of which reinforce the same theme of conflict and rejection. The story which forms the frame for this part of the narrative concerns Jesus’ family and their evaluation of him. Although Mark 3:21 can be read in different ways, one thing seems certain, Jesus’ family shows deep concern about his actions. If they are included in the subject of e!legon (3:21) and this seems hard to avoid, then they had concluded from what they were hearing about Jesus, that "he was mad" (e*xevsth)[24].  So they set out to find him and bring him home. However, when they arrive (vs. 31-35) and deliver their message, Jesus refuses to go with them. Rather, he redefines the nature of his family relationships and includes in this new kinship relation "whoever does the will of God" and rejects any hold his natural family may seek to exercise over him. In the midst of this family business Mark situates the accusation from the Jerusalem scribes (3:22) that Jesus’ power and authority have their source in the satanic kingdom (Beelzebub; the prince of demons)[25]. In other words, Jesus is demon-possessed, but controlled by an exceptionally powerful demon.

These two evaluations of madness and demon-possession mutually reinforce each other. Jesus rejects the first, inviting his human family to join with him in a new kinship relationship, "doing the will God." He rejects the second, responding with a series of ‘parables'[26] and concluding with a very serious warning about "not having forgiveness forever" (3:29). The parables point out first the absurdity of the scribes’ accusation. Why would satan engage in a self-destructive civil war? And then secondly, Jesus asserts through the parable about "binding the strong man", that he is plundering satan’s kingdom because he is stronger than satan. The only logical conclusion, then, is that Jesus’ source of power must lie in God, who alone is more powerful than satan according to theological perspectives within Judaism.

Jesus warns these religious leaders that they risk blaspheming God’s Holy Spirit should they persist in such accusations against him. This counter-charge of blasphemy is set in an a*mhvn saying (3:28-29), which normally signals a statement which has special authority. God’s eternal curse, Jesus claims, rests upon those who continually ascribe the Holy Spirit’s work to satanic influence. Such people refuse by their unbelief to accept God’s means for covenant relationship. No matter what sacrifices they may offer, pious rituals they may perform, or religious beliefs they may hold, if they blaspheme God’s Spirit in this way, they are "guilty of a sin which has eternal consequences" (3:29). Even Jesus’ own family, should they persist in their view that Jesus is ‘mad’, run the risk of such a curse.[27]

The readers of Mark’s narrative are now placed in a very tight spot. The Jewish religious leaders accuse Jesus of blasphemy.[28] Jesus accuses the scribes from Jerusalem of blasphemy. Which accusation is true? They both cannot be right. Both claim the sanction of religious authority and accuse the other of opposing God’s work.

Mark follows these stories of conflict with the discourse on parables (4:1-34). As many have noted, in verses 10-12 Jesus introduces the distinction between "those around him with the twelve" to whom is given "the mystery of the kingdom" and "those on the outside" for whom "everything happens in parables." In some sense this logion constitutes the key to understanding the parable of the soils which immediately precedes. When the disciples cannot figure out this connection Jesus, in Mark’s narrative, provides the explanation. He is talking about the ability of people to respond to his words appropriately. Whether or not Jesus intends his parable to be a picture of Israel’s historical track record of responding to God’s revelation, telling "the story of Jesus’ ministry, as the fulfilment of that larger story, with a paradoxical outcome" as N.T. Wright argues[29], in Mark’s narrative this segment surely outlines for the reader the importance of hearing correctly Jesus’ message and the terrible consequences of being deaf and blind to his teaching. The reason why the religious leaders and others do not hear and understand is related partially to God’s purposes (as the allusion to Isaiah 6:9-10 indicates), but also relates to their own refusal to accept the vision for Israel which Jesus is bringing. Jesus goes on to say that everything would be made plain (vs. 21-23). Also, he warned that those who continued to reject his message, eventually would find that "what they had would be taken away from them" (vs.24-25). The parables themselves become another test for the readers. Will they grasp the ‘mystery of the kingdom’ contained within them or not? Will they produce ‘fruit’ or like the other soils fail to respond as God intended?

Jesus’ ministry in Nazareth brings these issues to a poignant junction (6:1-6a). The story begins with elements of normalcy and success. Jesus arrives in his hometown (ei*" thVn patrivda au*tou’) after an astonishing series of dramatic miracles (4:35-5:43) and on the sabbath meets with his neighbours and disciples in the synagogue where he teaches them. The first recorded response is one of astonishment (e*xeplhvssonto, vs. 2). The people wonder about the source for Jesus’ wisdom and powerful miracles. They cannot conceive how this ‘construction worker’, this ‘son of Mary’, this one whose brothers and sisters rub shoulders with them all daily, knows and does all of this. As they discuss and think about it, their response changes and Mark tells us they become ‘offended’ (e*skandalivzonto,[30] vs.4) at him. A further twist comes in the story as Mark shares Jesus’ response to their dismissal. He acknowledges how hard it is for his neighbours and former customers to think of him as a prophet, but still he ‘marvels’ (e*qauvmazen,[31] vs. 6) at their unbelief (a*pistivan au*tw’n)[32]. His ministry is limited precisely because of their faithlessness. As witnesses the people who know Jesus best, his own family and townspeople, show their lack of trust and confidence in his claims. They refuse to recognize him, even as a prophet, much less Messiah. If those who know him well reject his claims, what should readers do, who have never met, seen, or heard him? Is Jesus right to claim that their unbelief is the source of their rejection, rather than their correct appraisal of his status?

One of the most extensive conflict pericopes in Mark’s narrative is built around the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus’ disciples "do not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat food with unclean hands" (7:5). Implied in this charge is that Jesus rejects the ancestral practices of Judaism and so his claim to be a faithful prophet must be rejected. Jesus responds to this accusation with some very strong language. He uses material from Isaiah (29:13) to describe these Pharisees as people whose "heart is far from me [God]" and whose "teachings are the commands of human beings" rather than God. They have abandoned God’s commands (a*fevnte" thVn e*ntolhVn tou’ qeou’ (7:8)) and replaced them (a*qetei’te thVn e*ntolhVn tou’ qeou’ (7:9)) with human traditions (7:8). At the end he states that they "annul God’s word by their tradition" (a*kurou’nte" toVn lovgon tou’ qeou’ (7:13))[33]. Here again the reader faces two similar accusations. The Pharisees claim Jesus is departing from the Jewish, divinely-revealed practices which define the covenant people of God in their view. Jesus, in turn, claims that the Pharisees are subverting God’s revealed word by their humanly constructed, religious traditions. Jesus, conversely, seeks to substantiate the plausibility of his argument through the parable of digested food (7:14-23) and the principle that the inner self of every human being is the source of evil, making each person unclean by thought, word and deed. These religious leaders again have failed to discern the true intent of God in giving Israel such sacred instructions. By focusing on the externals they have lost sight, apparently, of the internal, sinful pollution which these rituals seek to remedy. Mark leaves his readers wondering if Jesus’ analysis is right, with the implication that Pharisaic tradition, based upon human interpretation, is flawed and only God’s revelation as interpreted by Jesus is trustworthy.

As Jesus ministry in Galilee draws to a conclusion, Mark includes one more confrontation with the Pharisees (8:11-13), followed by Jesus’ strong warning to his disciples (8:14-21) about the Pharisees’ attitude. In the Old Testament Moses set forth some criteria by which Israel might evaluate the claims of a prophet (cf. Deut. 13:1-5; 18:14-22). Moses warned the Israelites not to be fooled by miracles or signs. These were not a sure indicator of divine authority. Rather, with the signs there also needed to be orthodoxy. But he also indicated that the announcements of true prophets would prove true. So the Pharisees require that Jesus forecast a "sign from heaven" in order to demonstrate his authority and its true source in God. Given his unorthodox response to sabbath practice and fasting, in their opinion Jesus needs to show clearly his orthodoxy by performing a divine sign "from heaven".  However, Jesus refuses because he realizes that their request is rooted in unbelief not belief. They seek a reason to destroy him. If the miracles he has already accomplished and which they have observed do not bring them to the point of faith, nothing he does in addition will sway them.[34]

Subsequently, Jesus warns his disciples about the "leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod" (8:15). By this metaphorical term ‘leaven’ (i.e. yeast), Jesus seems to mean their ‘hard-heartedness’ (8:17). He reinforces this by paraphrasing terms from Isaiah 6[35] in verse 8:18 (blind eyes, deaf ears). Even his own intimate followers can succumb to this disease of unbelief and refuse to recognize Jesus for who he is, despite the powerful deeds and words which they see and observe first hand. As Mark’s readers consider this text, they are reminded of their own danger and warned to be aware of the problem of unbelief. If Jesus’ own disciples struggled to understand him, Mark’s readers should take note and realize their own vulnerability.[36] The accusation of ‘hard-heartedness’ is used by Jesus several times in Mark’s narrative as the explanation for the failure of the religious leaders to respond to his message. Such terminology echoes the criticism of Israel by God, as their hardness of heart historically led them to reject His leadership and blinded them to God’s grace and goodness.[37] Again the rhetorical question which concludes this scene, "Do you not yet understand?", challenges the readers also.[38]

After this scene Jesus concentrates his attention in the narrative upon the faith-formation of his own disciples, eventually arriving in Jerusalem (8:27 – 11:1). The frequently repeated prophecy about his own death and resurrection (8:31; 9:9, 31-32; 10:32-34) perhaps functions ironically as the ‘sign’ which the Pharisees asked for, but which they refused to consider, at least prior to his death. As Jesus moves closer to Jerusalem and his forecast of personal tragedy becomes his constant refrain, the readers of Mark’s narrative must wonder if the conspiracy of the Pharisees and Herodians (3:6) will become the means by which Jesus’ prophecies are fulfilled.

At the beginning of chapter 10 Mark informs the readers that Jesus and his followers are moving towards Judea. The first pericope we encounter after this geographical note[39]and important advance in Jesus’ plans concerns the question of the Pharisees about the appropriate guidelines for divorce. The questioning by the Pharisees is characterized as a "testing" (10:2).[40] In his response Jesus again returns to the issue of scriptural interpretation. He reviews the commands of Moses and also the intent of God expressed in the creation account of Genesis 2:24 (cf. 10:7-8). By focusing upon Moses’ directive in Deuteronomy 24 and giving this priority, Jesus argues that the religious leaders have failed to discern God’s intent regarding the marital relationship as expressed originally in Genesis 2.[41] Moses’ instruction responded to Israel’s ‘hard-heartedness’ (10:5) and by extension, because the religious leaders have not perceived this, they continue to demonstrate ‘hard hearts’. Jesus concludes by summarizing what he considers to be God’s intention for marriage among His people. 

The significance of Jesus’ action in the Jerusalem temple (11:15-19) receives various interpretations. Whether it is a call for restoration and renewal or a prophetic, symbolic act of the temple’s impending destruction and replacement by something entirely new[42], Mark makes it clear that Jesus’ action incensed the religious leaders and as a result "the high priests and the scribes[43] heard and began seeking how they might destroy him" (11:18). The crowds in Jerusalem during this Passover time (14:1ff), Mark notes, again are "astonished at his teaching" (11:18)[44], but this serves to amplify the fear[45] about Jesus’ actions which the religious leaders experience. Mark requires the reader to consider once again the question of Jesus. Is he indeed the terrible danger and threat the religious leaders perceive him to be and so his destruction is warranted? Or does he stand in the line of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the prophets he quotes (11:17), and so deserves to be heard? The destruction of the fig tree, which the disciples alone observe, indicates to the reader something of the authoritative power of Jesus. When this is coupled with Jesus’ promise to his followers that faith in God could cause "this mountain [i.e. the temple mount] to be removed and thrown into the sea" (11:23), the potential effect of Jesus’ authority is multiplied significantly in the mind of the reader.         

Through the remainder of chapters 11 and 12 Mark’s narrative presents numerous scenes where various Jewish religious groups seek to discredit Jesus before the crowds as well as to gather incriminating evidence by asking contentious questions. They hope his answers will provide the ammunition necessary to arrange for his arrest with minimal public agitation. Sequentially the high priests, scribes and elders (11:27), some of the Pharisees and Herodians (12:13), the Sadducees (12:18), and one of the scribes (12:28), put their questions to Jesus. Finally, after Mark notes that "from then on no one dared ask him any more questions" (12:34), Jesus in his teaching of the crowds questions the religious leaders’ interpretations of Scripture (12:35-37), raising doubts about their ability to understand their own religious traditions, and openly criticizes their public behaviour. He ends with a strong warning that "such men will be punished most severely" (12:40).

The first confrontation centres around the source (11:28) of Jesus’ authority (e*xousiva), the attribute which the crowds first noted about Jesus’ teaching in 1:27. Earlier Mark has indicated that some religious leaders, "scribes from Jerusalem", considered that satan provided Jesus with his authority (3:22), an accusation he had denied vigorously. Despite all that Jesus had done in between, these leaders persisted in their belief that Jesus was a false prophet, demonically inspired. By responding with a question of his own, Jesus puts the leaders on trial, because he requires them to express publicly their opinion of John the Baptist’s ministry – was his message of baptism "from heaven or from human beings"? (11:30).[46] Mark then records the discussion which ensues among the religious leaders (11:31-32) as they sort out their options. They know precisely the implications of both answers. They also know that the majority in Israel believed John was a prophet from God. When they respond by saying "we do not know" (11:33), their credibility is seriously eroded in the mind of the reader. But even more, the reader who has the advantage of knowing what John has said and done and Jesus’ evaluation of his ministry (i.e. 9:11-13), realizes that John’s authority came "from heaven" and so then must the authority of Jesus as well.

The parable which follows in 12:1-11, however, does give Jesus’ answer to their question. The story of the vineyard resonates with that told by Isaiah (5:1-6) about Israel. Then, as also with Jesus’ parable, the vineyard belongs to God. When it does not produce the fruit He expects (i.e. justice, righteousness, etc.), He announces that He will destroy the vineyard. Similarly, Jesus warns that the farmers leasing the vineyard and refusing to provide the owner with his rightful share will be severely punished. The vineyard will be taken away from them and the owner will "give the vineyard to others" (12:9). In the midst of the parable the owner’s ‘beloved son’ is sent as the final attempt to bring the farmers to their senses. However, they kill him and throw him out of the vineyard (vs.8). Jesus ends the parable by quoting from Psalm 118:22-23 the prophecy about the "stone[47] which the builders rejected" and how "the Lord" makes it "the head of the corner". Plainly Jesus asserts that his authority comes from God, that his mission is sanctioned by God, even while acknowledging once more that he will be killed and rejected by the religious leaders, just as God had predicted in the Jewish Scriptures. In response the religious leaders try to arrest Jesus on the spot, because "they knew that he spoke the parable against them" (12:12). Fear of the crowds again stymies them.  In a mysterious way the very rejection which Jesus is experiencing contributes to his credibility because this precisely matches, in Jesus’ view, what God had prophesied previously in the Old Testament. Their rejection confirms his status.

In quick succession Mark recounts the question from the Pharisees and Herodians designed to "catch Jesus in his words" ([email protected] au*toVn a*greuvswsin lovgw/ (12:13)). With flattering and deceitful words ("we know that you are truthful….in truth you are teaching the way of God (12:14)) they throw out their query about paying taxes to Caesar. They anticipate that Jesus will condemn himself no matter what answer he provides. The author reveals Jesus’ awareness of their ‘hypocrisy’ and their intent to ‘test him’ (12:15), but none of this dissuades Jesus from responding and in the process, avoiding the political and religious pitfalls they had set. Instead of glee at his entrapment, they are forced into amazement (e*xeqauvmazon)[48] at his brilliant rejoinder. The Sadducees fare no better as they attack Jesus’ convictions about resurrection (12:18-27). Despite their extreme example which they think demonstrates that the idea of resurrection is absurd, Jesus, pointing them to study and understand the very Scriptures they quote to him, accuses them of error because they do not understand their sacred writings nor do they appreciate the power of God. He repeats his charge in verse 27, claiming that they "are badly mistaken."

Who is winning the religious debate? No matter how difficult the issue or cunning their intent, the religious leaders in the end lose the argument. If they cannot sustain their religious credibility in the temple precinct, the management of which validates their position and authority in the minds of contemporary Jews, why should the reader accept their assessment of Jesus as blasphemer, demon-possessed, deceiver, and false-prophet? Rather, they emerge as opposing God’s intent in John and Jesus, as well as misunderstanding their own religious tradition and identity. Yet, the discussion about the greatest commandment (12:28-34) does indicate that even among these religious opponents some do respond and recognize that Jesus, as teacher, does "speak truthfully" (12:32).[49]  Jesus acknowledges this insight of faith and says that this scribe is "not far from the kingdom of God" (12:34). Not all are deaf or blind to Jesus’ message. As in Nazareth there are a few in Jerusalem who exercise faith. Mark concludes this series of confrontations with the comment that "from then on no one dared ask him any more questions" (12:34). The reason seems obvious – Jesus knew Jewish theology, God’s intentions, and Jewish Scriptures better than any of these religious leaders. Their credibility is in tatters.

But the author is not content to leave matters here. Jesus in the narrative proceeds to challenge a fundamental belief presented by these scribes, namely that the Messiah is the "son of David" (12:35), a messianic title which does not occur in the Old Testament[50]. By reference to Psalm 110:1[51] Jesus indicates that David regards the Messiah as his "Lord", which seems to contradict the suggestion that the Messiah would be his "son" or descendant. Jesus asks for the canonical source of their assertion. They claim to know the Scriptures and yet they use titles for the Messiah which have no basis in these Scriptures.[52] Again, Jesus erodes their credibility in the eyes of the temple crowds (12:37), as well as for the reader of Mark’s Gospel.

A final blow to the status of the religious leaders comes in 12:38-40. Jesus pillories the religious attitudes and pretensions of the scribes ("for a show [they] make lengthy prayers" (12:40))  and at the same time condemns their lack of compassion for and just response to the precarious condition of defenseless widows. This language reflects the accusations of injustice and corruption leveled by earlier prophets (i.e. Isaiah and Jeremiah) against religious leaders of their day. Jesus implies that nothing has changed and the current religious leaders similarly "will be punished most severely", presumably by God[53].

The cryptic oracle of judgment uttered by Jesus (Mark 13:2) against the temple (and by extension the religious leaders who are responsible for its operations) and presumably Jerusalem as well, responds to his disciples’  expression of awe at the magnificence of the temple’s construction. It seems to bring closure to this period of temple activity which began with Jesus’ action to "drive out those who were buying and selling there" (11:15), continues with his controversial debates with the various religious leaders, and includes the parable of the tenant farmers. Just as Jeremiah had pronounced God’s judgment upon Jerusalem and the temple because the people and leaders had refused to respond to his prophetic calls for repentance (Jeremiah 7), so Jesus ends his period of public ministry in Mark’s record with this disclosure to his disciples that God similarly will destroy Herod’s magnificent temple. Given all that has transpired in Mark 11-12, the reader must assume that such judgment comes because of the opposition to Jesus and the failure by the religious leaders to accept Jesus’ authority, message and role. The commentary which Jesus provides in private to Peter, James, John and Andrew (Mark13:3-37) merely elaborates how and when this judgment will occur, the way in which it relates to the Son of Man’s future activity, and the responsibilities of Jesus’ followers as all of this happens. As he draws his commentary to a conclusion, Jesus affirms once more the authority of his words:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.[54]

The reader must ponder, then, the implications of such a strong assertion. Such hyperbole underscores the authority which Jesus claims for his message, which responds to the prophetic promises in Daniel 7:13-14 (alluded to in Mark 13:26), for example, and contrasts with the inability of Jewish religious leaders to interpret correctly the prophetic words which God had given to them in previous generations. Their inability or unwillingness to hear the real message which Jesus brings and the implications which this has for the destruction of Jerusalem sends a stark warning to the readers lest they also be found in a similar context of judgment because they too have failed to heed Jesus’ words. "What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’", Jesus urges at the conclusion of his discourse (13:37).[55]

As the final stages of Mark’s narrative focus upon Jesus’ arrest, trial and death, we discover that Jesus becomes more and more isolated. His closest followers betray or desert him. Alone he faces the inquisition of the religious leaders and the interrogation by the Roman governor Pilate. The religious leaders conversely seem to gather boldness as their conspiracy succeeds. Jesus is executed, condemned by his own claim to be "the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One" and warning his accusers that they "will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (14:61-62) His death by crucifixion seems to verify the opinion of the scribes that he was a blasphemer. Surely, if he were the messiah, God would have miraculously intervened to protect him, to enable him "to come down from the cross, that we may see and believe." (15:32) Mark describes their activity as mockery, scorn, and insult, as they heap verbal abuse upon Jesus, using religious slogans to discredit him (15:29-32). Pilate confirms Jesus’ death directly from the centurion responsible for the execution (15:44-45). The record of his burial by Joseph of Arimathea and some of Jesus’ female followers(15:46-47) brings closure to the conspiracy to "arrest Jesus and kill him" (14:1). If the conspiracy has succeeded, should this not lead the readers to conclude that the religious leaders’ evaluation of Jesus was right all along? The repeated use of the title ‘King of the Jews’ in chapter 15 challenges the readers to consider how this crucified, religious criminal could possibly be the Messiah, King of the Jews.

Of course, the readers know that Jesus had prophesied these precise events numerous times in chapters 8 – 10.[56] In ironic fashion the attempts by the religious leaders to silence Jesus by execution serve to affirm the authority and truth of his prophetic words. Further, Jesus claims that all of these events precisely fulfill the plan which God previously had revealed in the Old Testament.[57] The inability of the Sanhedrin to find convincing witnesses as the basis for a guilty verdict[58] against Jesus and their forced reliance upon Jesus’ own admission also suggests that he is guiding this process in some way. And then there are the various, extraordinary actions – darkness at noon and the tearing of the temple veil – which suggest that something unusual is occurring with Jesus’ death. Even the Roman centurion in charge of the execution detail, when he observes the manner of Jesus’ death, concludes that "this man was the Son of God!"[59] (15:39)

The readers must decide what Jesus’ death signifies. Is it the end of Jesus’ vision? Are the disciples of Jesus doing the only thing possible when they scatter in fear for their lives as Jesus is arrested? Is Peter’s denial of any association with Jesus the appropriate response in the face of a project gone awry? Should the readers imitate this response to Jesus’ death, affirming the judgment of the religious leaders that Jesus is a blasphemer and like Peter deny him with cursing? Or, on the contrary, does Jesus’ fulfillment of his own prophetic word by his arrest, trial and death engender confidence that ultimately his message should be trusted and that his life does complete the purposes of God Himself? Should the readers echo the centurion’s admission that Jesus surely is the Son of God? The lack of cogent witnesses at Jesus’ trial, the motivation of envy attributed to the religious leaders, the ironic insults of the chief priests and teachers of the law, the darkness and rending of the temple veil, all these various elements, plus the prophetic fulfillment motif, all direct the readers to conclude that Jesus is who he claims to be. His crucifixion does not nullify his mission, but rather establishes its credibility. The empty tomb, the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection by the mysterious "young man dressed in a white robe", and the promise that Jesus’ followers would see him again in Galilee (16:6-7) constitute Mark’s closing argument, giving his readers reason to acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

Final vindication for Mark’s view of Jesus and his claims comes in the fulfillment of the resurrection prophecies. He is both Jesus of Nazareth and Son of God.  

In conclusion, it seems apparent from this analysis that the author of Mark’s Gospel uses a variety of rhetorical strategies to guide his implied readers[60] to specific conclusions. In particular the language of religious conflict compels the hypothetical reader to choose between the competing interpretations of Jesus and his message. By means of specific rhetorical questions, repeated key words, debates about the correct interpretation of scriptural materials, characterization of the religious leaders[61] and Jesus, and the fulfillment of Old Testament and Jesus’ own prophecies, the author seeks to guide such readers to the conclusion that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of God" who will return in glory "on the clouds of heaven". Even when the religious leaders seem to have triumphed with the execution of Jesus, they have only contributed to the completion of God’s plan and the final confirmation of Jesus’ credibility. The narrator strives to remove spiritual blindness, deafness and hardness of heart in the implied reader.

If this gospel was written in the context of the Jewish-Roman war (66-70CE) and in Rome to help the church in that centre, then this narrative affirms Jesus’ message and role in contrast to the failed conspiracy of the Jewish religious leaders to eliminate him. It would serve to reassure first century Jewish Christians[62] particularly that when they accepted Jesus’ vision for Israel, they had chosen correctly. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, whether imminent or history, could be interpreted as God’s judgment upon those who reject the Messiah (Mark 12:1-12), regardless of their ethnicity. Even the political events occurring in Palestine continued to confirm and vindicate the truth of Jesus’ claims, especially his promises related to the return of the Son of Man in glory.  And if, as some argue, this church was facing persecution[63], then this narrative, vindicating as it does Jesus’ vision and message, would be strong encouragement to persevere.[64]    

Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

Northwest Baptist Seminary,

Associated Canadian Theological Schools,

Langley, B.C., Canada

October, 1999


In Mark’s Gospel Jesus warns his opponents against committing blasphemy in their evaluation of his ministry (3:28-29). Conversely, Jesus’ opponents accuse him of blasphemy at his trial (14:64). Such language tends to characterize intra-Judaic religious controversy in the first century. Mark, the implied author of the second Gospel, uses the language of religious conflict rhetorically in his narrative to persuade his implied reader to accept the authority of Jesus’ message as expressed in his story and to reject the counterclaims of Jesus’ opponents.

Key Words

rhetoric, religious conflict, irony, blasphemy, narrative, Gospel of Mark


  1. The second Gospel will be referred to as "Mark’s Gospel" in this paper. The writer is fully aware of the continued discussions relating to issues of authorship. The term ‘Mark’ refers to the assumed author of the narrative as the church traditionally has understood this.
  2. Various New Testament scholars use the term ‘rhetorical criticism’ to describe different kinds of textual studies. In this essay the third category of rhetorical criticism described in C.Clinton Black’s essay "Rhetorical Criticism" published in Hearing the New Testament. Strategies for Interpretation edited by Joel Green (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), pages 256-277, is used. Such investigations have their "centre of gravity…in the text’s power to move an audience or community of readers, whether ancient or modern" (page 264). The goal is to determine how the text is shaped in such a way so as "to motivate people to act right" (page 263, quoting from an article by Elisabeth S. Fiorenza). Cf. Luke T. Johnson, "The New Testament’s Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient Polemic," JBL 108(1989):439
  3. What exactly the intent of the author was in making this comment is open to debate. Perhaps it was a statement to the oral reader of the narrative not to ‘correct’ the preceding grammatical structure – masculine gender participle (e&sthkovta) modifying a neuter nominal referent (toV bdevlugma th’" e*rhmwvsew"). Or, it could be a general instruction to one who read the text to pay particular attention to the interpretation of this special phrase. Other interpretations are also possible. Other examples of such editorial guidance might be 2:10; 7;19. This specific comment also occurs in the Matthean parallel (cf. 24:15). Cf. Robert Fowler, "The Rhetoric of Direction and Indirection in the Gospel of Mark," Semeia 48(1989):115-124.
  4. One example would be the words Jesus speaks in response to the High Priest’s question "Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?" (14:62). The expectation that those involved in the trial would "see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" becomes a statement of judgment for his accusers, but a statement of promise and vindication for himself. Those accusing him regard it as the final proof they require to justify his execution. Cf. Stephen Smith, A Lion with Wings. A Narrative-Critical Approach to Mark’s Gospel (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 192-233.
  5. Mark 1:1.
  6. Several investigations of Mark’s use of conflictive language have outlined the general nature of its character within his narrative. However, defining the purpose for such language as part of the narrative and its contribution to the rhetorical agenda of the author deserves closer study.
  7. S. Sandmel, Anti-Semitism in the New Testament? (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978).
  8. R. Guelich, "Anti-Semitism and/or Anti-Judaism in Mark?" in Anti-Semitism and Early Christianity. Issues in Polemic and Faith, ed. by Craig Evans and Donald Hagner (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1993), pages 80-101. He concludes that "a careful, historical, literary reading of Mark’s narrative will demonstrate that one can in no way speak of "anti-Semitism" and only in a highly qualified manner of "anti-Judaism" in Mark’s Gospel" (page 101).  For a general overview of the debate reference can be made to Craig Evans’ article in the same volume entitled "Faith and Polemic: The New Testament and First-century Judaism."
  9. While it is not possible to prove beyond doubt that Mark’s depiction of the conflict between Jesus and some of the Jewish religious authorities is historically accurate, the kind of language Mark uses to characterize the confrontation between Jesus and his opponents can be paralleled in contemporary Jewish documents (i.e. Dead Sea Scrolls, Psalms of Solomon, etc.). For example, in the "Rule of the Community" those who are governed by the spirit of deceit are described as possessing a "…blasphemous tongue, blindness of eyes, hardness of hearing, stiffness of neck, hardness of heart in order to walk in all the paths of darkness and evil cunning. And the visitation of those who walk in it will be for a glut of punishments at the hands of all the angels of destruction, for eternal damnation for the scorching wrath of the God of revenge,…" (1QS IV 11-12). The translation is that of F. G. Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992), page 7.
  10. I assume the priority of Mark within the Synoptic complex. In addition, various elements in his narrative which are not found in Matthew or Luke or, if present, are located much later in the sequence of those narratives, indicate how significant this issue of conflict is for Mark in the presentation of his message. Attention will be directed to several examples in footnotes. However, the language of ‘hardening’ (pwrovw, pwvrwsi") seems to be a particular focus for Mark in distinction from Matthew and Luke.
  11. One attempt to discern Mark’s rhetorical purpose with this language of rejection was that of T. A. Burkill in "Blasphemy: St. Mark’s Gospel as Damnation History" in Christianity, Judaism and Other Graeco-Roman Cults. Studies for Morton Smith at Sixty. Part One New Testament. Ed. by Jacob Neusner (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1975):51-74.
  12. There is some argument to support the addition of spiritual beings such as God and demons and Roman officials to this list.
  13. The exact extent of Mark’s prologue is debated, with some arguing that it ends at vs.8 or vs.13 or vs.15. However, the use of the particle dev, the inifinitival clause of time, the transition between John and Jesus, the mention of the name of Jesus as subject, change of geographical setting, all seem to suggest that 1:14 is the point of transition from the prologue into the body of the narrative. Cf. Guelich, Mark 1- 8:26. 34A Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publishers, 1989):3-5.
  14. For a fuller evaluation of Mark’s use of characterization see David Rhoads and Donald MIchie’s Mark as Story. An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), pages 101-136.
  15. The inclusion of one story within another is a frequent narrative device used by the author.
  16. W. Grimm in his analysis of this term in the Septuagint and New Testament links it to examples of people responding to theophanies. cf. H. Balz and G. Schneider, eds. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991):128-129.
  17. Mark’s placement of this story at the very beginning of his narrative as Jesus’ starts his Galilean ministry highlights Jesus’ authority and contrasts with Matthew who omits this story and Luke who places it at the end of chapter 4 after Jesus’ inaugural teaching in Nazareth.
  18. A. J. Hultgren’s study of the conflict stories in the Gospels (Jesus and His Adversaries (Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1979) examines their ‘form and function’. On pages 180-184 he defines "Mark’s use of conflict stories". They demonstrate that Jesus is ‘victor over his adversaries’, but they would not recognize his authority because of their ‘hardness of heart’. These early conflicts "show a continuity between the conflicts of Jesus with his adversaries in his earlier ministry and the final conflict in Jerusalem" (page 184).
  19. Mark writes that the paralyzed man "went out before them all, with the result that all were astonished and glorified God…"(2:12). The term "all" in the first instance defines the entire group watching this event and that includes the "scribes sitting there". If this definition is correct, then the "all" in the succeeding result clause would normally have the same referent because Mark offers no alternate antecedent. This assumes, of course, the Mark’s language is intentional at this point of his narrative.
  20. For further discussion of Mark’s use of the term ‘blasphemy’ and its implications for his purpose, see Charles Anderson, "The Trial of Jesus as Jewish-Christian Polarization: Blasphemy and polemic in Mark’s Gospel," in Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity. Volume 1. Paul and the Gospels. Edited by Peter Richardson and David Granskou (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986): 107-125.
  21. Joanna Dewey, "The Literary Structure of the Controversy Stories in Mark 2:1-3:6," JBL 92(1973):394-401. She demonstrates many parallels in structure between the first and last stories in this sequence. Yet, there is contrast in the concluding evaluations by those observing Jesus’ actions.
  22. Matthew only reveals this conspiracy in chapter 12:14. The parallel in Luke 6:11 indicates angry, animated discussions among the religious leaders, but no specific mention of conspiracy to kill him.
  23. Neither Matthew or Luke in the parallel passages mention Jesus’ wrath coupled with grief, nor this evaluation of the religious leaders’ attitude.
  24. The concept of e!kstasi", the cognate noun, expresses "the behaviour of a person who is no longer controlled by his normal reason" (W. Mundle, "Ecstasy, Astonishment, Distraction, Horror, Madness," in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 1, ed. by Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), pages 526ff). This could be due to religious trance caused by an external, spiritual power or by the loss of one’s wits. In the case of Jesus the Gospels record no specific, religiously ecstatic experiences (unless the Transfiguration should so be classified) and so most commentators construe the meaning of e*xevsth in Mark 3:21 as a reference to mental instability. It is also important to note that neither Matthew nor Luke report how Jesus’ family were evaluating his actions at this point in his ministry.
  25. In several Qumran documents the members of the community also are warned to beware of the activities of people, such as the wicked priest, who are under the control of "Belial".
  26. This is the term Mark uses to describe these riddle-like expressions.
  27. Perhaps Matthew includes the logion about "speaking a word against the Son of Man" (12:32), which is not found in Mark’s account, in order to preserve Jesus’ family from committing the ‘unpardonable’ sin. In agreeing with the assessment that Jesus is ‘mad’, they "speak a word against the Son of Man" but do not sin against the Spirit by ascribing Jesus’ power to demonic sources. I am indebted to Dr. Brian Rapske for this observation.
  28. Is Mark’s placement of this story so near to the beginning of his narrative in contrast with Matthew (12)and Luke (11) another indication of his special concern for this issue of conflict?
  29. N.T.Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996): 230-239.
  30. This verb and the previous one are both in the imperfect indicative, signaling an inceptive action or state which continues, i.e. began to be offended or began to be astonished.
  31. Mark again uses an imperfect form.
  32. Mark is alone in emphasizing Jesus’ ‘amazement’ at their unbelief.
  33. The triple use of verbs beginning with the alpha privative, as well as the repeated emphasis upon "the command of God" or "the word of God" in contrast with the "tradition of human beings" (paravdosi") builds tremendous forcefulness in this encounter. The reader is being challenged again whether she will also ‘annul’ God’s word and heed human teaching.
  34. In the sections of his narrative which follow this confrontation (chapters 8 – 10), Jesus repeats a prophetic word about his demise in Jerusalem. Chapters 11-16 demonstrate how this forecast does in fact come true. Not only the prophecies from the Old Testament (i.e. Zechariah in Mark 14:27) are fulfilled by Jesus’ arrest, trial, death and resurrection, but also his own statements.
  35. Consider Mark’s reference to this same material in 4:10-12.
  36. When Judas does betray Jesus, these words give us the clue to his motives – hardness of heart and unbelief. Perhaps he began to realize, once Jesus entered Jerusalem, that there was going to be no national, militaristic revival led by Jesus. Maybe his betrayal happens because he understands Jesus’ intent sooner than his fellow-disciples and rejects Jesus’ mission of suffering.
  37. In Mark’s Gospel this terminology occurs at 3:5; 6:52 and 8:17. Isaiah accuses the priests and prophets of rejecting God’s word because they are a hardened people (cf. Isaiah 6:10). Jeremiah criticizes God’s people for obstinacy, heeding false prophets and disregarding God’s true messengers. Psalm 95:8 urges Israel, "Harden not your hearts!" Jesus’ accusation stands in the line of those previously made by Israel’s recognized prophets. His use of such rhetoric serves to categorize the refusal of the religious leaders to respond and as a serious warning to his own disciples. In chapters 8-10 Jesus’ disciples demonstrate their spiritual obtuseness in many different ways.
  38. Mark’s conclusion of this incident with the rhetorical question contrasts with Matthew’s account in which he continues to explain the meaning of Jesus’ words (16:11-12) after this question. This seems to decrease the potential, rhetorical effect of this question in Matthew’s Gospel upon the reader.
  39. Most interpreters of Mark’s Gospel consider the geographical notation about Caesarea Philippi in 8:27 as the signal for Jesus’ inauguration of his final journey to Jerusalem. However, there is no indication at this time that Jesus intends to venture outside of Galilee. At 9:33 Jesus still is in Capernaum. So the note in 10:1 that Jesus "having arisen went into the regions of Judea and beyond the Jordan" is the first intimation of his journey to Jerusalem in Mark’s Gospel.
  40. This term peiravzw expressed satan’s attack upon Jesus in 1:13 and also the Pharisees request for a sign in 8:11. It will recur in 12:15 when Jesus accuses them of "testing him" in the matter of paying taxes to Caesar.
  41. Mark perhaps by citing Jesus’ criticism for the religious leaders’ failure to understand God’s fundamental intent and, as a result, misinterpreting the law’s teaching about marriage and divorce are once more viewed as annulling the commands of God (cf. Mark 7:6ff).
  42. Mark’s intercalation of this event within the ‘cursing of the fig tree’ episode (11:12-14, 20-25) urges the reader to see some connection between these events, i.e. the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple. Only Mark intercalates this event with the cleansing of the temple.
  43. In 3:6 it was the Pharisees and Herodians who began conspiring to destroy Jesus.
  44. Mark repeats his exact words from 1:22, his account of the first response of a synagogue congregation to Jesus’ teaching. Other notices of this response occur at 6:2 (synagogue at Nazareth); 7:37 (people in the Decapolis); 10:26 (disciples’ response to Jesus’ words about wealthy people and the kingdom).
  45. ‘Fear’ is an appropriate response to God’s actions in the Old Testament, as His holiness impresses itself upon human beings. The response of the high priests and scribes to Jesus’ actions in the temple is also ‘fear’, but this is not the respectful response of worship which God deserves, but rather a fear of the political/religious consequences should Jesus’ actions be left unchallenged and the crowds rally to his mission.
  46. This question, of course, condenses wonderfully the key issue which Mark has been considering since the beginning of his narrative. This is the primary question which the readers must answer about Jesus.
  47. It is probable that Jesus here is using a play on words as the parable first talks about the ‘beloved son’ (ben in Aramaic) and concludes with a reference to the ‘stone’ (eben).
  48. Once again Mark uses the imperfect tense to suggest a continuing, if grudging, respect for Jesus.
  49. Compare this affirmation about Jesus’ truthfulness with the sarcastic statements made in 12:14.
  50. Its first occurrence in the extent literature is in Psalms of Solomon 17:21.
  51. Whether Jesus is the first Jewish interpreter to discern the messianic implications of Psalm 110:1 is uncertain. Plainly, as subsequent use of this text in other parts of the New Testament shows, it had a powerful impact upon the church’s understanding (cf. Acts 2:34-35; Heb. 1:13)
  52. For fuller discussion see R. Gundry, Mark. A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993): 717-719.
  53. This perspective complements Jesus’ warning in the previous parable (12:9) that the owner of the vineyard will "come and kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others."
  54. Mark 13:31.
  55. Only as the readers also respond to the words of Jesus will they have opportunity to be included in the ‘elect’ whom the Son of Man will gather when he returns (13:26-27). Neither Matthew or Luke include Jesus’ command "to all" in their parallel accounts.
  56. Mark 8:31; 9:9-10, 30-32; 10:32-34.
  57. Jesus’ cites Zechariah 13:7 in Mark 14:27 and later states as he is arrested that "the Scriptures must be fulfilled" (14:49).
  58. In the Markan narrative Jesus is portrayed as completely innocent of any charge brought by the Sanhedrin or by Pilate.
  59. Exactly what the Centurion would have meant by this assertion is debated. The nominal structure ‘son of God’ may be anarthrous because it functions as the predicate in a nominal sentence. However, recent suggestion has been made that it is a direct reference to Augustus’ title or name dei filius, with some contrast being drawn between Jesus and Augustus.
  60. Rhoads and Michie in Mark as Story indicate that we must distinguish between the ‘implied reader’ and the ‘first century reader’. The ‘implied reader’ is "an imaginary reader with the ideal response implied or suggested by the narrative, experiencing suspense or feeling amazement or sympathizing with a character at the appropriate time" (page 137). A ‘first century reader’ in contrast is "an actual reader" who "would have seen the events of the story world in relation to the events of the real world at the time of writing"(page 140).
  61. Whether the narrator considers the Jewish religious leaders to be cautionary examples or a continuing threat to the Christian community or a combination of the two cannot be ascertained without more precise information concerning the circumstances which gave rise to this narrative. If the narrative was circulating prior to or during the first stages of the Jewish-Roman conflict, then perhaps the continuing vitality and political influence of the Jewish community in the empire would be seen more as a threat.
  62. Paul’s discussion of the place of Israel in salvation history found in Romans 9-11 indicates how important such issues were within the Roman church even in the early 60’s of the first century. Of course, other venues have been proposed for the origin of Mark’s Gospel (i.e. Galilee, Alexandria, etc.). However, the crisis within Judaism and those movements closely associated with it by the Jewish revolt in AD 66 would generate significant and continuing discussion about the meaning of these events in terms of God’s plans for His covenant people.
  63. Joel Marcus, "Mark 4:10-12 and Marcan Epistemology," JBL 103(1984):557-574
  64. Rhoads and Michie also describe how a sympathetic, first century reader might hear Mark’s narrative and respond in his or her given context (Mark as Story, pages 1401-42).

Greater than Solomon

In Matthew 12:38-42 Jesus compares himself to two Old Testament figures – Jonah and Solomon. In both cases he indicates that "one greater than" either of these individuals is now present and active among the people of God.[1] It seems apparent from Matthew’s arrangement of the gospel materials[2] that the choice of these particular individuals for comparison is connected to the response of Gentiles to their messages, the people of Nineveh in the case of Jonah (Jonah 3), and the Queen of Sheba in Solomon’s case (1 Kings 10:1-3; 2 Chronicles 9:1-2). Neither Solomon nor Jonah did any great "sign" to command such response to God’s word. Yet, in contrast the Pharisees, who pride themselves in being people of God, demand of Jesus, who claims to be "greater than" Jonah or Solomon, some "sign" (Matthew 12:38) to vindicate the claims which he is making and justify their belief in his message. But in what sense exactly is Jesus in the Matthean[3] context claiming wisdom[4] such that "one greater than Solomon is here."

David Hill [5] in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel is somewhat typical of treatments of this passage in that a great amount of attention is given to the "sign of Jonah" and defining the way in which "something greater than Jonah" is present. However, once the reference to "Solomon’s wisdom" (vs.42) is mentioned, its seems to be assumed that readers will understand that "the one greater than Solomon" must be greater in terms of "wisdom". Yet, this begs the question of the content of that wisdom.

When Gundry [6] comes to comment on this text, considerable discussion is given to establishing what the "sign of Jonah" refers to. However, apart from asserting that "the greater than Jonah and Solomon is Jesus" [7] , he says nothing about the nature of Solomon’s wisdom or in what precise way Jesus is "greater than Solomon". Hagner [8] will go so far as to say that Jesus "is the incarnation of wisdom (cf. 11.19)", thereby presuming that the reader will know the nature of this wisdom and how Jesus expresses it. If we turn to Carson [9] , we discover that "Jesus is ‘something greater’.than Solomon; Jesus is the Messiah, who will introduce the promised eschatological age." But again, there is no attempt made to interpret the nature of Solomon’s wisdom, which seems to be the primary point of comparison between Jesus and Solomon. Even Burnett’s article on "Wisdom" in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels [10] merely states that "the ‘something greater’ than the preaching of Jonah and the wisdom of Solomon, then, seems to be Jesus’ message." [11] Presuming that Jesus is speaking of himself in these expressions, what is the wisdom which he brings and which declares him to be greater than Solomon? Is it possible to be more precise in terms of understanding the specifics of this comparison? Is it possible to define the nature of this ‘wisdom’, particularly in light of the overall context of Matthew 12?

In Jewish writings of first and second centuries BCE and CE the nature of Solomon’s wisdom receives rather specific attention. In several cases this wisdom enables individuals (including Solomon himself) to exercise extraordinarily effective control over the demonic realm. Given the immediate context of the discussion about Solomon’s wisdom and Jesus’ relationship to it in Matthew 12, particularly the Beelzebub controversy and the exorcism which stimulates it, there seem to be grounds for suggesting that the wisdom which Jesus demonstrates, so that he is "greater than Solomon", in fact refers primarily to Jesus’ control over Satan’s kingdom in the exorcism of demons. [12] It may also have reference to the ability which Jesus exercises in healing, sometimes connected with the expulsion of a demon in Matthew’s account. [13]

Evidence from various second temple period documents indicates a portion of Judaism at least believed that Solomon’s special wisdom enabled him to control evil spirits. The first hint of this may come when the Greek translator of 1 Kings 4:29-34 [14] states that the number of songs Solomon wrote numbered 5000, in distinction from the 1005 claimed by the Massoretic Text. When Josephus retells the story of Solomon in his Antiquities (8:45,47), he increases Solomon’s production exponentially by claiming that he composed 3000 "books" of proverbs and 1005 "books" of songs. In addition, Josephus claims that Solomon created "incantations" (ejpw/dav") and "forms of exorcisms" (trovpou" ejxorkwvsewn).

Chapter 7 of the Wisdom of Solomon recounts Solomon’s request to God for wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3) and God’s response. Solomon says:

For it was he who gave me unerring knowledge of existent being,
to know the structure of the universe and the operation of the elements;
the beginning, and end, and middle of times,
the changes of the solstices and the vicissitudes of the seasons;
the cycles of years and the positions of the stars;
the natures of living creatures and the tempers of beasts;
the violent force of spirits and the reasonings of men;
the species of plants, and the virtues of roots. (7:17-20) [15]

Solomon’s expertise is connected with "the full range of human science and philosophy (i.e. ontology, cosmology, physics, astronomy, biology, botany, esoteric knowledge)." [16] But within this list we discover that he had special knowledge of "the violent force of spirits" (pneumavtwn biva"). Some debate occurs as to whether "spirits" should in fact be translated "winds". Winston argues that the translation "spirits" seems to be required by "the structure of the verse." [17] The stich prior talks of ‘living creatures" and "beasts"; the one which follows mentions "plants" and "roots’. In other words similar things are paired together. It would seem odd to have "winds" and "men" connected. Linking "spirits" with "men" (i.e. human beings) would seem more appropriate to the parallelism. Solomon’s wisdom, then, would include knowledge about "the violent force of spirits", presumably evil spirits. His insights into the "virtues of roots" may have a medicinal focus, as well as be related to exorcism rituals which also used certain herbal materials.

The date at which Wisdom of Solomon was composed is greatly disputed. Proposals range from 150 BCE to 50 CE. Winston [18] argues on the basis of lexical data and content that it "cannot be earlier than the Augustan age and that very likely (though by no means decisively) it was written in the first half of the first century CE." An Egyptian provenance is also generally accepted. Even if the hypothesis of a first century CE origin is correct and Wisdom of Solomon was not composed prior to the ministry of Jesus and represents Egyptian Judaism, it still testifies to the way in which Solomon’s wisdom was being construed in that general time period by some segments of Judaism, albeit diaspora Judaism.

There is some evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls that Solomon’s name is linked with control of demons within the Qumran community. Van der Ploeg published fragments (11QPsAp [LP1] a) which contained several apocryphal psalms, as well as an unusual form of Psalm 91(128-139). [19] In column 1 van der Ploeg reads the name "Solomon", followed in the next line by the word used in Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 to refer to demons (hshdim). It is his judgment that the appearance of Solomon’s name in this context supports Josephus’ description of Solomon’s involvement with the demonic. If van der Ploeg’s analysis is correct, then such a text shows that Solomon’s name within the Qumran community was linked with the authority needed to control demonic activity. If this is a correct deduction, then we possess a specific, Palestinian example of Solomon’s name being used in exorcistic activity in the century just prior to Jesus’ activity.

In Josephus’ narration of Solomon’s reign in the Antiquities he says that "God granted him [Solomon] knowledge of the art used against demons for the benefit and healing of men. He also composed incantations by which illnesses are relieved, and left behind forms of exorcisms with which those possessed by demons drive them out, never to return." [20] Josephus links Solomon with the power to exorcise demons, as well as the creation of effective rituals, including incantations. This is not just mythology for Josephus. He illustrates this by means of a contemporary event which he personally witnessed.

He tells the story of Eleazar [21] , the Jewish exorcist, who appeals successfully to Solomon’s name and knowledge during an exorcism conducted in the very presence of Vespasian, the Roman emperor:

God granted him [Solomon] knowledge of the art used against demons for the benefit and healing of men. He also composed incantations by which illnesses are relieved, and left behind forms of exorcisms with which those possessed by demons drive them out, never to return. And this kind of cure is of very great power among us to this day, for I have seen a certain Eleazar, a countryman of mine, in the presence of Vespasian, his sons, tribunes and a number of other soldiers, free men possessed by demons, and this was the manner of the cure: he put to the nose of the possessed man a ring which had under its seal one of the roots [22] prescribed by Solomon, and then, as the man smelled it, drew out the demon through his nostrils, and, when the man at once fell down, adjured the demon never to come back to him, speaking Solomon’s name and reciting the incantations which he [Solomon] had composed. Then wishing to convince the bystanders and prove to them that he had this power, Eleazar placed a cup or footbasin full of water a little way off and commanded the demon, as it went out of the man, to overturn it and make known to the spectators that he had left the man. And when this was done, the understanding and wisdom of Solomon were clearly revealed, on account of which we have been induced to speak of these things.. [23]

The many songs and proverbs which Solomon is said to have composed (1 Kings 4:29-34) contained, in Josephus’ opinion, the spells and authoritative words necessary for the demonic control. His understanding of the healing power of various herbs provided Israel with special knowledge in the art of healing as well.

Josephus composed the Antiquities between 90 and 100 C.E., but the event which he narrates about Eleazar must have occurred during the Jewish war, i.e. 66-70 C.E., and specifically when Vespasian was leading the Roman troops in Palestine (67-68 C.E.). Given Josephus’ general historical reliability, we have in this account very credible evidence that links Solomon’s name both as an authority to appeal to in exorcism as well as the source for many effective incantations for exorcism in the first part of the first century C.E. and only three or four decades after the death of Jesus.

Three other types of evidence have indirect bearing upon this question. First, we note that in the Magical Papyri Solomon is frequently referred to as a powerful authority in the incantations. While these texts date to the third century A.D. and were found in Egypt, they may reflect earlier traditions. Deissmann, citing the text of the Paris Magical Papyrus, translates lines 46ff:

For I adjure thee by the seal which Solomon laid upon the tongue of Jeremiah and he spake. [24]

The text is not attributed to Jewish or Christian sources, but certainly shows Jewish affiliations. It demonstrates the continuing connections made between Solomon and demonic control. [25]

Secondly, the Testament of Solomon is the most explicit document expressing Solomon’s effective control over demons and his loss of that power because of his disobedience to God. [26] As Solomon constructs the temple, he subdues the demons and forces them to assist in the building process. A great variety of demons, male and female, are identified, named, and controlled by Solomon. [27] His basic power is exercised through a ring. This document is thought to reflect "first century Judaism in Palestine." [28] The document begins:

Testament of Solomon, Son of David, who reigned in Jerusalem, and subdued all the spirits of the air, of the earth, and under the earth; through (them) he also accomplished all the magnificent works of the Temple; (this tells) what their authorities are against men and by what angels these demons are thwarted. [29]

We note also the specific identification of Solomon as "Son of David" in this document.

Finally, for sake of completeness, we mention the Aramaic incantation texts (ca. 600 C.E.) from Iraq and Iran which refer repeatedly to the seal of Solomon and its effectiveness in controlling demons. [30] The texts found on these magical bowls state:

charmed and sealed in all evil that is in the body of Mihrhormizd b.M. (8) and in his house [and] his wife and his sons and his daughters and his cattle and his property and in all his dwelling, by the signet of Arion son of Zand and by the seal of King Solomon son of David, by which were sealed the Oppressors and the Latbe. [31]

The tradition about Solomon’s ring and its magical powers is much older than the 6th or 7th century C.E. (as Josephus illustrates), but it has considerable staying power. [32]

We return then to Matthew 12:42 where Matthew records Jesus as claiming that "one greater than Solomon was here." Is it not probable, given the identity of Solomon’s name with exorcism and miraculous healings in first century Jewish tradition, that Jesus’ primary reason for comparing himself to Solomon lies in this aspect of divine power? Could Jesus be claiming in fact that he is "greater than Solomon" precisely because he casts out evil spirits without any need for special incantations or herbal remedies, but merely by the authority of his own word? Is the "wisdom" which Jesus brings the eschatological authority and power of God himself engaged in direct contest with the forces of Satan? The context of Matthew 12:38-42 certainly would support such a conclusion.

This section of Matthew (11:2-13:58) demonstrates the growing rejection by Israel of Jesus’ claims. Chapter 11 begins with John the Baptist questioning whether or not "Jesus is the one to come or should they wait expectantly for another?" (11:3) Jesus responds by paraphrasing Isaiah 61:1 as the prophetic description fulfilled by his own activity. John himself is identified as the one Malachi prophesied would come, the resurrected Elijah (Malachi 3:1 = Matthew 11:10; cf. also 11:14; Matthew 11:10 also is verbatim quotation of the Septuagint text of Exodus 23:20. In this text the messenger is God’s angel who leads Israel into Canaan.). Yet, according to Jesus Israel thought John "has a demon" (vs.18) and thus rejects his message. Conversely, they reject Jesus because he acts in ways presumed improper for a prophet, associating with sinners and tax-collectors!

The theme of rejection is heightened as Jesus condemns the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. They have seen his miracles and heard his preaching, but have not repented (11:20-24). The ancient, Gentile centres of iniquity, Sodom and Gomorrah, given the same chance as these Jewish cities, would have repented long ago! The comparison of Israel’s response to that of non-Jews prepares us for the references to the people in Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba in 12:38-42. Matthew then records the conspiracy which the Pharisees instigate in order to kill Jesus, the ultimate form of rejection, because of his actions in healing on the Sabbath (12:1-14). Jesus’ claim that "one greater than the temple is here" (12:6,8) introduces the concept of comparison, which ultimately includes priestly (temple), prophetic (Jonah) and kingly (Solomon) precursors. [33] We discover that Jesus’ ministry of healing and exorcisms expands, such that the crowds, observing Jesus’ skill in exorcism, wonder "Is not this person the son of David?"(12:23) [34] But the Pharisees respond with the accusation "This man does not cast out demons except by Beelzeboul, prince of demons!"(12:24). Jesus warns them that they will be held accountable by God for such statements (12:37).

Perhaps in an attempt to settle the question of Jesus’ authority once and for all, some of the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign (12:38). Jesus responds by accusing them of being a "wicked and adulterous generation", contrasting them with the Ninevites who needed no special sign other than the presence of God’s prophet to respond to Jonah’s proclamation of imminent judgment (11:39-41). Similarly the Gentile Queen of Sheba will condemn the generation of Jesus’ day because she acknowledged the awesome wisdom of Solomon and now "one greater than Solomon is here" (12:42).

Again Jesus warns the religious leaders that his coming presents Israel with a unique opportunity. Jesus’ special, divine power is sweeping away the effects of evil, but if people do not respond and accept his teaching with repentance, then the evil one will return with greater and more devastating effect, because they reject God’s help and power (12:43-45). The section concludes with Jesus urging them all to become part of his great family by doing the will of God (12:46-50) and embracing his wonderful message.

Throughout this section Matthew defines the activity of Jesus in terms of miracles of healing and exorcism. Yet despite all that Jesus does in Israel, rejection according to Matthew is the primary response. As "son of David" the crowds acclaim him, yet this recognition as the new Solomon does not carry the day, particularly among the religious leaders. They refuse to admit that "one greater than Solomon" has come among them and that his greatness is demonstrated particularly by his ability to control the demons. They will not accept the truth of Jesus’ parable that he is the thief who has entered the strong man’s house, bound him and is robbing him (12:29).

The particular greatness of Jesus’ wisdom and power is represented in three special segments in this larger section of Matthew. [35] We have already noted Jesus’ paraphrase of Isaiah 35:5-6 and 61:1ff in Matthew 11:5. The special prophetic promises of Isaiah, Jesus claims, are being fulfilled in his actions and words. Salvation is being realized through Jesus himself and no one else. His greatness is being defined in terms of the special servant God promised, the Messiah of God. A second segment occurs in Matthew 11:25-30. While there are many elements in these texts worthy of comment, that which receives our attention here is the unique relation of Jesus to God in terms of revelation. "All things have been given to me by my father and no one knows the son except the father, nor does anyone know the father except the son and to whomever the son wishes to reveal [him]"(11:27). Just as Solomon received special wisdom and revelation from God (1 Kings 3), so too does Jesus. [36] Yet Jesus’ knowledge is far greater because his knowledge enables people to know God and enter into relationship with God. Unfortunately, Jesus says, this understanding escapes the wise in this world. But all is not lost, because the "children" are the happy recipients of God’s revelation. So Jesus is held up by Matthew as unique because of the special Father-Son relationship he has with God, the special revelation which God grants to him, and finally, although we have not discussed it, the special blessing which Jesus grants to those who will accept his teachings (his easy, light "yoke").

Finally, there are Matthew’s own comments, following his pattern of fulfillment statements (12:15-21), as he concludes that Jesus’ words and deeds fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s servant (Isaiah 42:1-4). Much speculation swirls around this text, the longest Old Testament quotation in Matthew and one which he may have translated directly from the Hebrew text or else adapted specifically for this context. As part of the first so-called "Servant Song" in Isaiah, this passage points to the behaviour of the servant as unobtrusive, quiet, compassionate, and peace-seeking. Such an approach typically was not that expected of the Messiah (cf. Psalm of Solomon 17-18), who conversely would enter the scene with triumphant display, aggressive action against wickedness and the authoritative command of a king. Matthew’s purpose is to demonstrate that Jesus’ messianic process is exactly as God ordained and prophesied. He is "greater than Solomon", even though he does not exercise at this point the prerogatives of an earthly king. God’s approval rests upon him (11:18) and God’s Spirit is placed upon him. He will "lead justice to victory"(12:20) and the Gentiles will not place their hopes in him in vain.

Unusual and unexpected though Jesus’ method of messianic ministry may be, it still is no less the way God has sent him and the kind of spiritual invasion which God has ordained.

All three of these segments contribute to our understanding of how Jesus is greater than Solomon. Two of these passages build upon explicit Old Testament prophetic texts (Isaiah 42:1-4; 61:1ff), often viewed as messianic in significance. The other reveals Jesus’ self-understanding of his relationship to God and the extraordinary authority and revelation which God has granted to him. Each in its own way fills out the picture of how Jesus is greater than Solomon.

But it is also necessary to remember that the overt reference to Solomon in Matthew’s record of Jesus’ teaching occurs specifically in the setting where his authority over evil spirits is especially stressed. Such placement should not be ignored in our interpretation of this greatness, particularly when we know from Jewish sources in the first century that Solomon’s reputation ranked high because of the effectiveness of his remedies for exorcism and healing.

Perhaps one other piece of evidence should also be considered. Matthew’s Gospel more than any of the other Gospels describes Jesus as "son of David." It begins in 1:1 as Matthew introduces his story as centering upon "Jesus Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham." Joseph, the husband of Mary and protector is also introduced as "son of David" (1:20). In 9:27-31 two blind men appeal to Jesus as "son of David" to exercise mercy and heal their affliction. Jesus’ action to heal a demon-possessed blind and mute man, cause the observant crowd to exclaim, "could this be the son of David?" (12:22-23) The Syro-Phoenician women (15:21-28) appeals to "the son of David" to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Finally in 20:29-34, as Jesus is about to leave Jericho, two blind men cry to him for mercy as "the son of David" and he restores their sight. Then as Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowds and children cry out "Hosanna to the son of David"(21:9,15). The literal son of David was of course Solomon. Why do these people appeal to Jesus as "son of David" in their petitions for his help and healing? Do they in some sense know the traditions concerning Solomon’s power and recognize that, if he is messianic in some sense, Jesus must possess this same power, but perhaps to an even greater degree? By the title "son of David" are they in fact appealing to the "new Solomon" who is really much greater than Solomon? Given that in several of these situations exorcisms are linked with the restoration to wholeness, perhaps this is not improbable.

We have sought to link the first century, Jewish traditions about Solomon and his extraordinary powers over evil spirits (and disease), to Jesus’ claim that one "greater than Solomon is here" and to show how Matthew wants his readers to understand one aspect of Jesus’ greatness. The tradition certainly existed in Palestine during the time of Jesus and seems to be well known among elements of diaspora Judaism, particularly in Egypt. Matthew does place this comparison in a context replete with references to evil spirits and exorcism. Jesus is acclaimed as "son of David" by those who seek his help for healing and release from demons. The comparatively quiet nature of Jesus’ messianic progress is affirmed as precisely the method which God ordained prophetically that the Messiah should follow. And so, even though religious experts doubt Jesus’ legitimacy, this does not at all affect his authority, power or role as Messiah. Those who have faith will truly see him as Messiah, Son of God and victor over evil spirits, the one "greater than Solomon." 



  1. [1] Cf. Matthew 12:6 where Jesus claims that "one greater than the temple is here."
  2. [2] The author of this gospel seems to contrast in this section of his narrative the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leaders (cf. 11:16-24; 12:1-14, 24-28) with the acceptance by Gentiles of God’s wisdom expressed through earlier Jewish kings and prophets. His quotation of Isaiah 42:1-4 (Matthew 12:15-21) and its conclusion that "in his [the servant’s] name the nations will put their hope" reinforces this unexpected outcome.
  3. [3] The Lukan parallel is 11:29-32.
  4. [4] Wisdom is a characteristic of the Messiah. Isaiah 11:1-2 prophecies that "a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse….The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding." Similar announcements are made in the Psalms of Solomon 17:29: "He shall judge peoples and nations in the wisdom of his righteousness" and also, perhaps with reference back to passages such as Isaiah 11:1-2, Psalms of Solomon 17:37: " For God will make him mighty by means of (His) holy spirit, And wise by means of the spirit of understanding, with strength and righteousness."
  5. [5] David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew. New Century Bible (Greenwood, S.C.; The Attic Press, Inc., 1975), 221.
  6. [6] Robert Gundry, Matthew. A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.,1981), 243-46.
  7. [7] Ibid., 246.
  8. [8] Donald A. Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary. Volume 33A. Matthew 1-13 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1993), 355.
  9. [9] D.A.Carson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Volume 8. Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 297.
  10. [10] F.W. Burnett, "Wisdom", in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, & I.Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 874.
  11. [11] Douglas Hare in his commentary (Matthew. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993) gives no comment on this issue. No specific definition of the nature of this wisdom is provided by David Harrington in his commentary (The Gospel of Matthew. Sacra Pagina Series Vol. 1. Collegeville, Minn: The Liturgical Press, 1991). Similar silence is found in Richard Gardner’s Matthew (Believers’ Church Bible Commentary. Scottsdale, Penn: Herald Press, 1991) and Eduard Schwiezer’s The Good News According to Matthew (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975).
  12. [12] In Matthew 13:54 the people of Nazareth ask a similar question: "From whence does this man get this wisdom and do these miracles?" No definition of Jesus’ ‘wisdom’ is given by Matthew at this point but it seems connected to the normal content of his preaching and teaching, such as Matthew characterizes in 4:23, along with his miracles and exorcisms. The nature of Jesus’ teaching in contrast with his humble origins is too great and they are ‘scandalized’ at his presentation.
  13. [13] "Jesus was called the Son of David when, like Solomon, he cast our demons (TSol prologue)." This is George Buchanan’s comment in The Gospel of Matthew (Mellon Biblical Commentary, Lewiston: Mellon Biblical Press, Vol. 1, 1996, page 542).
  14. [14] The corresponding text in the Septuagint is 3 Reigns 4:12: "And Solomon spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs were five thousand."
  15. [15] David Winston, The Wisdom of Solomon. The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1979), 172.
  16. [16] Ibid.
  17. [17] Ibid., 175-76.
  18. [18] Ibid., 22-23.
  19. [19] J.P.M. van der Ploeg, "Un Petit rouleau de Psaumes Apocryphes," in Tradition und Glaube, Festgabe fur Karl Georg Kuhn zum 65, Geburtstag (Göttingen; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971), 128-139.
  20. [20] Antiquities, 8,44-45.
  21. [21] Ibid., 8,46-48.
  22. [22] The reference to the roots of certain plants may be explained by Josephus’ description in the Jewish Wars 7, 180ff of the baaras plant. "For the so-called demons – in other words, spirits of wicked men which enter the living and kill them unless aid is forthcoming – are promptly expelled by this root, if merely applied to the patients."
  23. [23] Antiquities 8,46-48
  24. [24] Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient Past (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1978, repr. ), 261. A similar text from Hadrumentum, North Africa, third century, is quoted and translated in Deissmann’s Bible Studies (Winona Lake, Ind.: Alpha Publications, 1979, repr.), 274-279.
  25. [25] Translation and commentary on this text will also be found in C.K. Barrett, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 31-35. His comment on line 34 is: "Solomon enjoyed great repute as an exorcist and his seal was well known; but the connection with Jeremiah does not seem to be attested elsewhere."
  26. [26] Testament of Solomon, Translation and Introduction by D.C. Duling, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume One Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, ed. by James Charlesworth (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1983), 934-987. This is an excellent introduction to and translation of this document.
  27. [27] Apocalypse of Adam, Translation and Introduction by G. McRae, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1 Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, ed. by James Charlesworth (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1983), 707-719 mentions Solomon’s power over the demonic realm in section 7:13.
  28. Solomon also sent his army of demons to seek the virgin. And they did not find the one they sought, but the virgin who was given to them was the one they fetched. Solomon took her. The virgin conceived and gave birth to the child there. She nourished him on a border of the desert. When he had been nourished, He received glory and power from the seed from which he had been begotten. And thus he came to the water.
  29. The Apocalypse of Adam is a gnostic document written in Coptic and dated somewhere between the second and fourth centuries of this era. It is one of the documents found near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1946. The reference to Solomon’s control over demonic elements indicates how widespread this concept was in Jewish-Christian sources during the first few centuries of this era.
  30. [28] Ibid., 942. Duling suggests a date of third century A.D. as perhaps the best probability for dating this ‘Testament’.
  31. [29] Ibid., 960. There may be reference to Solomon’s use of demons to build the temple in the Gnostic treatise The Testimony of Truth in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, gen. Ed. James Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 406-416:and his son Solomon, whom he begat in [adultery], is the one who built Jerusalem by means of the demons, because he received [their powers].
  32. Robinson, page 415. The presence of this tradition in the Gnostic literature is another indication if its vitality and wide dissemination.
  33. [30] Loren R. Fisher, "Can This be the Son of David?", in Jesus and the Historian Written in Honor of Ernest Cadman Colwell, ed. By F.T. Trotter (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968), 82-97.
  34. [31] Ibid., 84.
  35. [32] We might add to these sources the Biblical Antiquities of Pseudo-Philo (cf. Howard Jacobson, A Commentary on Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum With Latin Text and English Translation. Vol. 1 & 2. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996) which usually is placed in Palestine, roughly contemporary with Josephus. When the author (chapter 60, section 3) describes King Saul’s malady and David’s involvement in bringing him relief, David sings a song. It is in effect an incantation and the last part of this song seems to prophecy a progeny which shall have power over evil spirits:(1)….Saul sent and brought David and he played a song on his lyre by night. This is the song he played for Saul so that the evil spirit would depart from him. (2)…."After this was the tribe of your spirits made. (3) Now do not be troublesome, since you are a secondary creation. Otherwise, remember Tartarus wherein you walk….Or do you not remember that your brood was created from an echo in the abyss? But the new womb, from which I was born, will rebuke you, from which in time one will be born from my loins and will rule over you." The one referred to in this sentence ("one will be born from my loins") could be construed as Solomon. Jacobson comments that "the commentators are split as to whether this refers to Solomon, who was famous for his power over demons,…or to a Messianic figure (though LAB in general has little interest in the Messiah), who is sometimes said to conquer evil spirits (e.g. Test.Levi 18.12, I En 69.28)" (page 1180). Dennis Duling, "Solomon, Exorcism and the Son of David", Harvard Theological Review 68(1975):240 reviews much of this evidence relating to Solomon’s connection to demonic control.
  36. [33] Jesus has already used comparative language in defining John’s significance in 11:11. If o* mikroVtero" in this text is also a hidden reference to Jesus, then Jesus consciously compares himself to John, as one who is greater than John.
  37. [34] J.H.Charlesworth in "The Son of David: Solomon and Jesus (Mark 10.47)", published in The New Testament and Hellenistic Judaism, ed. by Peder Borgen and Soren Giversen (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1995), 72-87 explores the data which might link the name of Solomon with healing in pre-70 Jewish literature. He concludes that "as far as I know there is no reference to Solomon as "healer" in the Jewish pre-70 Jewish pseudepigrapha, nor in the Old Testament Apocrypha, Philo, or Josephus."(83). In commenting upon Matthew 12:22-23 he states: Matthew’ [sic] text will not allow us to conclude that the crowd thought Jesus was to be seen in terms of Solomon; but, it may indicate that "the Son of David" as healer and one who could exorcize a blind man and enable him to see was a concept accepted as possible by first-century Palestinian Jews. (84) If the reference to Solomon in Matthew 12:42 is original to Jesus, then Jesus himself was encouraging people to compare him to Solomon. The writer of Matthew’s gospel, by placing the reference to Solomon and the question about "Son of David" in the same context, encourages his readers to draw the conclusion that the title "Son of David" is at one level a Solomonic connection. I am indebted to Dr. Craig Evans for referring me to this article.
  38. [35] Russell Pregeant. "Wisdom Passages in Matthew" in Treasures New and Old. Recent Contributions to Matthean Studies. David R. Bauer and Mark A. Powell, eds. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1996.
  39. [36] In the Davidic covenant recorded in 2 Samuel 7:14 God promises to David that He will provide offspring for him. In addition, God says that "I will be to him for a father and he will be to me for a son…." Rahlfs edition of the Septuagint has the following translation: "e*gwV e!somai au*tw/’ ei*" patevra, kaiV au*toV" e!stai moi ei*" ui&ovn." Jesus’ use of this father – son language is reminiscent of the Davidic covenant. Perhaps Matthew uses this logion and its father – son language to emphasize in an additional way the David – Solomon connection with Jesus.