An Old Argument: Academic Theologian vs Discipleship and Bonhoeffer

We Christians seems to be in many pendulum debates amongst each other that have no clear resolution, but this is one of them I hear more than others at times. Those who are deeply involved in discipleship speak about the evils of seminary or staying in a continued state of theological study. Those in higher education (seminary specially) talk about how we are raising a generation or two now that know nothing about their own faith. To me, Jesus is the ultimate example. He was a discipling theologian. He could go toe to toe with the smartest theological minds of his time (see Luke 20:19-40), and he could raise up the “lowly” of his day to become incredible disciples for Christ (see a fisherman named John and a few others).

To me, it has never been an either-or. It has always been both, even if I stink more at one than the other (or quite possibly at both), I think the true follower has to look at the example Christ gives us where both knowledge and discipleship are equally important in the Christians life. We live in an interesting time in history due to the technological advances we have, and this is perhaps widening the gap between theology and discipleship. It has never been easier to be able to get into higher education if you are called to do so, although the work isn’t any easier once you get in there. You also no longer really need that piece of paper that says you know what you are talking about (CT on Why People Aren’t Going to Seminary), to be a good leader or pastor, just ask Perry Noble, and you certainly don’t need a seminary degree to be great at discipleship.

I say all this, because last night I was trudging through the Bonhoeffer biography late last night, and came across Bonhoeffer’s statements on this very subject from way back in the 1940’s. In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, he said:

Bonhoeffer had in mind a kind of monastic community, where one aimed to live in the way Jesus commanded his followers to live in his Sermon on the Mount, where one lived not merely as a theological student, but as a disciple of Christ. (Read more at location 5056)

Bonhoeffer saw that a large part of the problem was Lutheran theological education, which produced not disciples of Christ, but out-of-touch theologians and clerics whose ability to live the Christian life—and to help others live that life—was not much in evidence. (Read more at location 5065)

I called it a pendulum debate because throughout time it has swung back and forth with the landscape of history. I’m sure someone, somewhere, has a great chart of church history and the rate of seminarians to discipleship, but just common sense tells you it swings back and forth. I don’t know that much about Bonhoeffer yet, but the more I learn about him, the more I understand that he, in at least some respects, got it right. Most couldn’t argue that he wasn’t a great theologian, but he was also a man devoted to discipleship.

New Semester Of Hebrew from Alef to Taw

Today is the start of another new semester. I love the start of the fall semester when it rolls back around. Everyone getting back into the groove of a busy fall schedule (down here that means football and basketball are not far away). Hard to believe how full my schedule already is at this point but along with my second Systematic Theology class, today I start Hebrew. There were many times over the last year or so that I had completely given up on ever being able to complete a cognitive language set, but some how it worked out this time, and today is day one. Since I can barely claim to be proficient in my own native English, Hebrew is somewhat intimidating to me right now, but I hope to look back in a year and know it was worth the work, and I managed to learn something along the way.

Step one was to learn the twenty three Hebrew consonants, which gave me a perfect opportunity to practice writing an acrostic poem, Of Hebrew from Alef to Taw. Trying to memorize totally unfamiliar information has never been easy for me, but working the information into a form of study works much better at solidifying the unfamiliar. This was my first attempt at learning the Hebrew letters and my first attempt at writing an acrostic poem. Makes me look forward to a coming semester full of firsts.

Of Hebrew from Alef to Taw

א  Alef is first and foremost to complete and appeals to thus
ב  Bet is on deck but gives no solace
ג  Gimel sounds familiar with no pivot or axis
ד  Dalet as in “day”, said slow, not of quickness
ה  He corresponds to the grass that cows eat
ו  Waw is the way to follow that drumbeat
ז  Zayin reminds of that great city on the hill
ח  Het seems like some mathematical problem to distil
ט  Tet has power and might to be used many ways
י  Yod is the smallest among those twenty-three displays
כ  Kaf comes back around again to explain that of Josiah
ל  Lamed roars across the kingdom much like Hezekiah
מ  Mem says be quiet now, the little one needs some rest
נ   Nun is more than halfway, now don’t be depressed
ם  Samek brings a circle of life that sounds like the fall
ע  Ayin proceeds with silence, just like a cat’s crawl
פ  Pe will furnish a prayer that might demand our response
צ  Tsade looks just like another minus the tail of nuance
ק  Qof incurs the wrath of a king going into combat
ך  Resh provides hope this exercise ends with proper format
ש  Sin runs through our blood and must come to repentance
ש’ Shin appears to be identical just one spot out of vengeance
ת  Taw is first and foremost to complete and appeals to thus; a text as old as He, but a genesis for us

How Ancient Near East Writings Clarify Scripture

Many Ancient Near East writings have similarities to the familiar stories of the Old Testament text; the creation story of Genesis 1-2 with Mesopotamia and Enki, Noah with the Epic of Gilgamesh (text), and the Genesis account of the Tower of Babel in 11:1-9 with “Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta”.  The Sumerian account that parallels the Tower of Babel is not quite as easy to see, as Gilgamesh and Noah, but it does try to explain where the many languages of the world came from.

The Ancient Near East text called the “Epic of Gilgamesh” is a story that has obvious similarities to the story of Noah in Genesis 7-8.  The epic, referred to as by some, as the “greatest piece of literature to come from Babylonia”, is the story of Gilgamesh’s meeting with Utnapishtim (referred to as the “Babylonian Noah”) who has obtained immortality by surviving a worldwide flood on a boat he built, with his family and all the animals of the world.[1]

There are numerous similarities like the call to bring aboard all the animals and the entire account of the dove and the raven.  The story and its history are important because it predates the Genesis account and many looking for ways to refute the Bible look to this story as proof. If the Gilgamesh epic predates the Noah account then, they conclude, the writer of Genesis must have taken the store from the Ancient Near East writing.

There are generally three explanations given.  The Babylonians took from the Hebrew account, the Hebrew account took from the Babylonian account, or each came from a common original historical event.  For a great in-depth study of this topic, see the thesis by Nozomi Osanai entitled A comparative study of the flood accounts in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis.

Often, in our evangelical churches of today, these writings are never mentioned or referenced, and realistically there is probably little time on Sunday mornings to broach such a deep topic any more.  Still, there is so much to be gained from their readings.  These texts can actually clarify scripture in some cases, as well as affirm our beliefs and understanding of scripture.

The comparison of Gilgamesh and Noah is a good example.  If we follow Osanai’s examples above and conclude that each account came from a common historical event, it confirms, although perhaps not conclusively, the fact that the flood account actually happened.  This may not help or support a case like the exodus where almost all accounts of the Israelites exodus out of Egypt other than the Biblical account are seemingly extent, but that is addressed in a completely different manner scholastically.

As with many topics, this barely even scratches the surface, but is an area often missed in casual Biblical study today, for many reasons, which can yield many benefits.[2] This of course just barely scratches the surface of the question, “How Does Ancient Near East Writings Clarify Scripture” but it opens the door for future study and discussion.

[1] Arnold, B. T., & Beyer, B. E. (2002). Readings from the Ancient Near East. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Acedemic, 66.

[2] This was an excerpt from a longer discussion on applying the Old Testament laws to our world today.  If the Mosaic Law is revelation from God, how do you explain its similarities to other ancient Near Eastern law codes? What is truly distinctive about the OT Law as revelation from God? What insights are gained from reading Hays’ article on how to apply the OT law as God’s Word today (or deal with ethical issues related to the Christian use of the Law) even though we are no longer under the Mosaic covenant (see Applying the Old Testament Law Today by J. Daniel Hays).  Read Full Text on Ancient Near East Writings post.

Reasons Why Apologetics is Important in Ministry Today

In this particular article I was asked to choose the three most important reasons for including apologetics in my own personal ministry.  The answer is the following post.  Originally published on May 13, 2009 and republished for this blog on June 4, 2010. Although it is very important to understand the differences between religions like Jews, Christians, and Muslims (which is what the Coexist campaign seems to be trying to do), it is more important to me as a follower of Christ to understand our own reasons behind what we believe.

The three most important reasons for including apologetics as a part of my ministry, and to me any ministry, are personal truth, cultural relativism, and discipleship.  More specifically, apologetics, to my ministry and to me is:

  1. For personal truth: To know the salvation I seek and trust is the actual Truth.  To know why I believe what I believe to be true and not just to believe because I feel It to be true.
  2. Cultural relativism: To be able to defend the perceived truths of our highly relativistic culture, as we are commanded by scripture, in being able to lead others to a relationship with Christ and to do this through truth in scripture, knowledge, and love, not through a blended Christian worldview of the truth as we know it.
  3. Discipleship: To eventually be able to disciple, mentor, or lead other Believers to the truth in scripture so as not to be deceived by a cultural blending of Christian truths and worldviews.

For many years after I became a Christian I went through the motions of being a Christian.  Not questioning the truth but accepting all known teachings from others as truth without understanding why.  Taking a more apathetic approach to the truth of Christian philosophy, I became a lazy Christian believing the truth as truth, but not ever testing or seeking out the truth beyond an emotional basis.  Similar to how it is said in No Doubt About It, “He is real to me. …So I cannot doubt His existence, and you don’t need to prove it to me”.[1]

I took God as self-evident, and although no one in more than 15 years as a Christian introduced me to an apologetic view of my faith, I didn’t need one either.  Just because I hold God and Jesus as self-evident doesn’t mean everyone else does, and if I don’t have an apologetic understanding of my own faith, how can I effectively explain it to someone else.

It seems our understanding of truth in our culture today is relative.  This may be a trend that started in America many centuries ago, but in the age of information everything seems to be on an accelerated course.  Our society is constantly bombarded with inaccurate statements, reports, other media and information of all kinds and it seems goes unchecked.  Unchecked so much so that one person can look at a door, call it red, another call it blue, and both agree the contradiction is true.  Mis-information is bad, but one of Satan’s best weapons is to blend truth and falsities into one and make people believe it to be truth and fact without question.

According to Kinnaman in UnChristian, most outsiders see Christians as too hypocritical, too antihomosexual, too sheltered, too political, too judgmental[2] and most of what the outsiders perceive to be true about Christians is a blending of truth according to what scripture says and truth according to what our culture says is true.  For these reasons, apologetics plays an important role in cultural relativism.

To be a disciple of Jesus is something as Believers we all strive towards as we grow and mature in our walk in Christianity.  To become a disciple, Jesus poured truth into the original 12 during his ministry so they could in turn do the same to others when Jesus was physically absent.  At any point in a Believers life they will be pouring into some other Believer, or will be poured into by a Believer, or possibly both at the same time.  To achieve this we can and should follow the example Jesus gave during his ministry on earth and be ready to learn, and teach apologetically when called.

[1] Winfried Corduan, No Doubt About It: the Case for Christianity, 1st Edition (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997). 45.

[2] David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian : what a new generation really thinks about Christianity… and why it matters, 1st Edition (Baker Books, 2007).

The Position and Argument for the Inerrancy of the Bible

I had to give a working definition of Inerrancy today so I thought I would post an excerpt of the results here as well.  If you are just interested in the conclusions just jump to the bottom, if you want the full text there is a pdf download at the bottom as well (or from my writing section).  This post is by no means meant to be exhaustive.

Biblical inerrancy is an important part of Christianity, and any theology.  Because the Christian faith has firmly rooted its authority in that of the Holy Scriptures, the inerrancy (or infallibility as some refer to it, though the terms are not totally synonymous) of the Bible plays a central role in the authenticity of Christianity and its message.  The issue of infallibility has come to be used as an alternate definition from that stated below, meaning more that the Bible was not always factually accurate but that the purpose, meaning, and overall divine nature was accomplished.

Concluding Definition of Biblical Inerrancy

There have been countless theses and dissertations written on the subject of the inerrancy of scripture, so this working post can only serve as the most basic introduction into the material of inerrancy.  Erickson in Christian Theology explains inerrancy as…

The Bible, when correctly interpreted in the light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms (see full text Position and Argument on the Inerrancy of the Bible for qualifications).

Why is Biblical Inerrancy Important Today?

There are many reasons why inerrancy is important, especially today, when we live in a pluralistic society that is intent on defining truth as whatever you make it out to be.  From a scholarly viewpoint, there are theological, historical, and epistemological reasons for inerrancy.

From a theological point of view, Paul, the disciples, and Jesus among other people, all called on the authority of scripture.  Jesus quoted scripture throughout his ministry and took the view that scripture was the inspired work of God.  If God inspires the work, and God is all-powerful, all knowing, and completely Holy, He certainly could influence the final canon to be completed accurately.  If the Bible was not accurate, our own view of inspiration, among many other theologies that come from the Bible, would not be accurate either.  In other words, without inerrancy, much of what we believe in scripture could not be held out as truth either.

Historically, the early church long held to the inerrancy, dependability, and authority of Scripture.  History has a way of being testing by time, and to disregard the history of the church would itself be in error.  The early church had far fewer questions about the inerrancy of scripture.  It was known to them to be true, and fully trustworthy.  If we depart from inerrancy, we also must depart from many other doctrines formed by the early church.

An epistemological view would state that some assertions in the Bible are at least potentially independently verifiable.  Viewed as a type of domino theory, if one falls, they all fall, if we hold certain propositions taught by the Bible to be true that are not, we cannot continue to hold any of the propositions taught by the Bible to be true.

How Do We View Inerrancy Today

As stated above, this topic is so far reaching, so broad in scope that any of the information above can only be taken as the most basic and brief overview.  In our own personal walk in Christianity the inerrancy of the scriptures has to play an important role in what we believe as Christians.  If the Bible is the inspired word of God, given to us by divine revelation, we must conclude it is inerrant.  If we don’t, all we can do is proceed down a slippery slop of discerning which parts are and which parts are not accurate.

We hold to almost no absolute truths in our culture today.  Society no longer allows for absolute truths, they are far too exclusive, far too judgmental.  Truths have to be open for debate, flexible, changeable, and able to be managed and manipulated into our own culture and times in a way that benefits our desires and sinful nature.

If the Bible is inspired, and also found to be errant, then we can not conclude that the God of the universe, the God of creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of Jesus, is inerrant either.  That is a simplistic way to make a conclusion, but if we as Christians do not hold the Scriptures as the ultimate inerrant authority, then how can we hold that Christianity is the only way, the truth, and the light.

[For a full version of this essay in pdf please download Position and Argument on the Inerrancy of the Bible]

Learning to Live a Life of Discipline


We all know that living a life of discipline is important for many reasons, but this topic is not something traditionally touched on Sunday mornings, how learning to live a life of spiritual discipline is just as important in the Christian walk.  Often we think we can only worship on Sunday in the church building, or only pray when we get on our knees and fold our hands.  That is a slight over exaggeration but we know that scripture says in 1 Thess 5:17 to pray without ceasing, so how can we do that if we only participate in prayer or worship on Sunday mornings?

The photo I shot below was taken on a beach in Orange County California several months ago.  It was almost deserted except for a few surfers and after a long day of work it was a great place to worship and pray while I watched the beauty of God’s day come to an end (other photos from that afternoon of worship are posted in Pacific Coast Sunset in OC // Friday Feet).

I just finished one of the best small books I have read recently called Spiritual Life by Westerhoff, and in his book he explains 6 different ways we go about learning to live a life of spiritual discipline.  Silence and solitude, preparation, writing, reading, and several others are all ways we can experience God’s presence, and in turn grow in our spiritual relationship with Him.  I for one am excited to be able to worship the God who made this sunset, it was an afternoon between me and His presence that I won’t soon forget.

If you would like to read my extended comments on this topic I have made them available in this short essay called Spiritual Formation, Learning to Live a Life of Discipline in a pdf download.  I have a long way to go, but love knowing that I can worship our Lord anywhere, anytime, and he hears my prayer, and he hears yours as well.

Link to pdf Download.

3 Monastic Principles of Pachomius for Today

The pursuit of the monastic lifestyle was something that was key to Christianity, and is something that is still relevant to our day and culture. These monks originally started out as hermits who sought the solitude of a cave or the desert in order to have a closer relationship with God but to also remove themselves from the corruptions of the church. Often these first monks were more interested in living a simple life than education or any worldly possession.

By the time of Pachomius around A.D. 320 there were so many hermits living in the desert and caves that Pachomius said we can do this together in one community of hermits (about 100 at the time) with rules to guide our life [as monks], and he started a monastery. As we know from the time of St. Francis, more and more monasteries were being formed and they would eventually have to seek out the Pope for approval of their “Rule”. For the Pachomius monastery, he determined that they would have three rules for living. First, poverty, designed to break the chains that bound people to their possessions, second chastity, to cure you of the sin of lust there would be no contact with the opposite sex, and three obedience, to overcome the self will of the mind. In other words, simplicity of living was the call for a monk.

Present Day Principles for us Non-Monks

Most subsequent monasteries would have their own Rule, which each resident was to follow, and many were adjustments to the original three Pachomius had made back in A.D. 320. If we look at these three principles for non-monastic life in modern 21st century life, we can see that they still apply, much like scripture written two thousand years ago still applies to our lives today.

Vow of Poverty

First, poverty (as a means of obtaining a status of being poor) is something in the 21st century that is almost impossible for one to truly attain, if living in American. Even the poorest citizens of our country have more possessions and benefits from modern times than any other country or time in history. The world (and America) of course has not be able to “rid” society of poor, and Jesus even said that we would always have the poor among us (Matt 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8), so even though it goes against everything that is capitalism, there are many things we can gain from applying this principle in our lives today.

We have made being poor like a disease, where the cure is to buy more stuff, collect more possessions, and generally consume more and more. Of course one can be materially rich and spiritually poor and they don’t have a correlation with each other. We cannot obtain spiritual riches by physical possessions and we cannot generally obtain material possessions if we are poor by means of becoming spiritually rich (though there are what seem to be obvious exceptions to this, I would suggest that materials means obtained via a spiritual source does not increase the spiritual richness of your life).

Choosing a life that is guarded to the consumerism and materialism of our culture is important. Every possession is an expression of our witness to others and we can’t (and probably shouldn’t) always explain in great detail why we have or don’t have this or that, we either do or don’t, and that is the instantaneous judgment of society. To understand this is principle is to make our witness as effective as possible to those we influence the most, consciously or unconsciously.

Vow of Chastity

Second was that of chastity. If you watch the news much it doesn’t take long to see that there are those who are still fighting [to remove] the chastity of today’s Priest (thought they weren’t always celibate). This principle is more than saying Catholic clergy should not marry, it deals with one of the most accepted and destructive forces in our 21st century lives today, lust.

The word lust appears over 30 times in modern translations and James puts it this way: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:15) For Pachomius to deal with this most dangerous of sins he attempted to remove all temptations from his monastery, but one of the biggest issues with lust is that it is an internal sin, committed in the heart of those who Believe against God Himself.

Today these temptations are a way of life. This is how we sell products to consumers, it consumes the Internet, it is all over the news, and evidence of its destruction is everywhere. Is this relevant today and how does this principle help us since we are not all going to just choose not to be married (nor does the Bible tell us not to marry)? It is probably the most relevant of moral issues today. Ignoring lust is a victory for Sin. Understanding our own weaknesses is important. We can look at lust as something that will not sneak up on us, something that we can defeat and overcome; not of our own accord but only with God’s help can we master lust.

Vow of Obedience

Obedience is something else that is talked about throughout scripture, and one of the three Pachomius felt was most important in living a pure life devoted to Jesus. This principle was primarily to fend off ourselves from ourselves, to overcome the self-will of the mind.

Where is obedience in our culture today, does it even still exist? Pachomius wanted his monks to be obedient to the monastery, knowing that, although they (we) might not understand everything but in being committed to obedience they would in turn be obedient to the One who saves (Romans 6:16).

Obedience is another tough principle today when we are dominated and controlled by no one but ourselves. We are (basically) free to live how we want, choose the career we want, live, eat, sleep, and travel any way we want. This may not be the case in North Korea but here in America we can basically be obedient to our self-interests without regards to the betterment of society as a whole. Scripture tells us this is no way to think or live and although we may think we don’t affect anyone but ourselves, inevitably our actions of obedience or disobedience often affect an unknown chain reaction of people, for positive or negative.

Claims We as Christians are Called to Defend and Refute

I began a new journey in my walk this summer, 2009, one I have felt a long time calling to pursue but just never could figure out how and when.  That is probably because the how and when should have been left up to God, not me trying to figure it out but non-the-less, after many years, I have decided to start my academic pursuit of work in ministry, whatever that comes to mean in the future, in seminary.

For some reason, I decided to start off my 2009 class year at Liberty with Apologetics, probably because I knew so little about the subject.  As an introduction we were given seventeen claims we as Christians are called to defend and fifteen we are called to refute, all of which I have listed below.

It was interesting that I should start my seminary work with this class.  These point below are probably an overview of what is in the years ahead of me.  I see many things I know I believe are true, but many I can not begin to explain in logical terms.  Makes me look forward to the times ahead of me.

All of us as Christians are called to share and defend our faith.  We don’t have to be experts in all these areas below, but we should know, the rest of the world expects us to be, or at least expects us to be able to explain to them, in common terms, the points below.

Seventeen claims we are called upon to defend as Christians in our Time:

The following are in no particular order, but all are important and all are challenged by the modern secularist mindset.

  1. God exists
  2. The Lordship of Jesus Christ—He was fully God and fully man.
  3. Christ died for our sins
  4. Christ rose from the dead
  5. God is all knowing and all powerful
  6. God is all goodness, in spite of the fact of evil in the world
  7. The Bible is the inerrant Word of God
  8. Events recorded in the Bible really happened and tell us something significant about God, about life, and about morals
  9. God will judge the world on the basis of the moral behavior of mankind
  10. Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, to peace with God
  11. Faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for one to be right with God
  12. The churches have the freedom and right to preach and teach God’s truth in God’s way.
  13. The teachings of God’s word exemplify a moral “high ground”
  14. A life lived so as to please God is better than a secular lifestyle
  15. The historic truths of the Christian faith are objectively true, in the same sense that scientific truths or other secular truths are true.
  16. We are responsible to God for our moral behavior.
  17. Mankind is a special creation of God, not the product of evolution or of impersonal forces in the universe

Fifteen worldly claims we are called upon to refute as Christians:

Some of these may appear to overlap, but each is a separate issue, and each has adherents in the world.  You will discover that there are people even in our churches who believe at least some of these, according to research done by George Barna.

  1. All Religions lead to the same god
  2. It doesn’t matter what your religion is as long as you are sincere—God understands
  3. Jesus is merely a great teacher or prophet
  4. God is too loving to ever send anyone to Hell
  5. A god who would send any of his “Children” to Hell is not a god worthy of our worship
  6. Morality is relative.  You have to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong.
  7. We are the end product of evolution, the crowning achievement of the forces of nature.
  8. Man is the measure of all things.  What is good is what benefits the human race.
  9. The individual is all that matters—what’s good is what is good for you!
  10. Religion and Science are different realms—religious truths are different from scientific truths.
  11. “I know what’s best for me! I don’t need anyone else running my life!”
  12. Don’t worry about doctrine!  Religion is about what you feel!  If I have peace in my heart, then that’s all I need.
  13. The Bible is a human book, a product of the religious experiences of one people.
  14. The Bible is an old book—it was fine for back then but it has nothing to say to our time, to people today.
  15. Muslims worship one god too!  So it must all be the same God.

This post was originally created on May 11 2009 and updated in June 2010.