What Happened That Made You Like This?

Since the shooting in Las Vegas last Sunday, authorities have been searching for a motive for why Steven Paddock opened fire on a crowd of people with the intent to kill as many as possible. So far, no leads have turned up. Everyone who knew him seems genuinely shocked. He doesn’t seem to fit any of the expected patterns or usual profiles. People are confused and asking: How does someone get to the point where they would do something so profoundly evil and terrible as this?

The modern worldview is that we are progressing as a society, we are evolving and getting better. Furthermore, it believes that “evil” doesn’t really exist per se, but that “evil behavior” is the result of outside factors:

  1. You have a psychological complex because you were raised improperly.
  2. You did it because of bad sociology: you weren’t educated enough, or you were poor.
  3. It’s a result of bad genetics and/or you are aggressive because of millennia of natural selection which favored aggressive behavior.

There might be some truth to the matters of how someone is raised, but this theory is insufficient. This theory has no category for a Steven Paddock, who doesn’t fit any of these models. He wasn’t poor, he wasn’t uneducated, he was raised in a loving home… It’s interesting to watch reporters grasp at straws to find a reason for what happened to him that made him like this…

It reminds me of a scene from the book, Silence of the Lambs, about the serial killer: Hannibal Lecter. Officer Starling goes in to interview Hannibal Lecter, and she is looking at him and considering what he has done, and she sees his attitude, and she asks:

“What happened to you that made you like this?”

Officer Starling is the quentisential modern person. She thinks: “You are doing bad things, therefore something must have happened to you, something must have come from outside – it couldn’t have come from inside!” This is a philosophical leap of faith, which assumes that people are basically good, and if they do anything bad it is only because of outside influence.

Hannibal Lecter replies:

“Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviorism, Officer Starling. You’ve got everybody in moral dignity pants – and nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand and say I’m evil? Am I evil, Officer Starling?” (The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris)

Hannibal Lecter is making a very important point: the modern worldview has no category for evil.

The modern world view has actually been eroding very quickly. In the 20th Century, the world became wealthy and educated, many of the problems of poverty were overcome, and yet wars and violence didn’t end, they escalated. The 20th Century was the most bloody century in history – at a time when the world was more educated, industrialized and wealthy than ever before.

The Christian worldview, however, which is based on the Bible, has no problem accepting these things – because we have a very comprehensive view on sin.

We have a category for Hannibal Lecter and for Steven Paddock. The Bible tells us that within all of us lurks the capacity for terrible acts, because we are fallen and corrupt. The theological term is: Totally Depravity. That means that, apart from God’s work within us, even the good things we do, we do for less-than-pure motives: either to benefit ourselves, bring praise to ourselves, or to justify ourselves.

But the Bible doesn’t just stop there with telling us what’s wrong, and that evil lurks inside of us; it also tells us what God has done to save us and redeem us. It tells us what God has done to destroy evil without destroying us: He took on human flesh, became one of us, and died a substitutionary death, so that through His death He might destroy the one who holds the power of death, and set free those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

We should pursue better legislation, further education and the eradication of poverty, because we have been given a calling and vocation from God to “subdue the Earth,” i.e. to manage it well and to do all that we can under God to promote human flourishing. But we must remember that such things do not change the heart. We must place our ultimate hope in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

Back to School

Yesterday I received my letter of acceptance from London School of Theology, where I will begin my postgraduate studies starting this September to get a Master of Arts in Integrative Theology.

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I will be studying via distance learning, which means I won’t have to travel at all and will be able to make my own schedule, both of which are important to me since I’m a full-time pastor and have a family at home. I looked into a local school in Colorado, but I prefer the British approach to education. Also, British schools are more affordable than US schools when it comes to studying Christian theology because in the US it is only taught in private universities because of the separation of church and state – whereas in the UK public universities can have theology departments. I would recommend Americans who want to study theology to really consider looking into studying via distance learning in Britain.

I’m excited to go back to school and continue my theological education. It’s been nice taking a year off, but I am ready to get back into it.

I am still in Kyiv; I fly home tomorrow morning. Today I got to visit Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary and speak to the students and staff.

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The faculty and students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary

Several months ago I met a couple who live in Berthoud, CO who run an organization called Ukraine Orphan Outreach. It was through them that I got connected to people at the seminary, and as it turns out there are several people from Calvary Chapel in Ukraine who work and study there.

I was impressed with their school and its mission: “To strengthen churches and transform society” – as well as the work they are doing to accomplish that. Having an interdenominational evangelical seminary in Ukraine is a great asset to the church here.

The school has many students from outside of Ukraine, and recently they started a second campus of their school in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They also operate several mini-campuses in cities around Ukraine, for people who want to study with them but have difficulty coming to Kyiv.

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A class at UETS

I’m praying that God uses and blesses the work of UETS to raise up and train many ministers of the gospel to work in this country and the former republics of the Soviet Union.

To Seminary or Not to Seminary

Seminary – AKA “Semetery”: the place where young people who love God go to have their faith shaken and their enthusiasm killed forever. At least that’s how seminary was portrayed to me as a young Christian who was eager to serve the Lord.

Today, as a pastor and seminary student, I have to say that I actually agree with that. I can see how seminary can kill a young person’s faith and enthusiasm. However, I think that seminary is a good thing, and something pastors should do. For me, going to seminary has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, both personally, and for my calling as a pastor.

I didn’t start going to seminary until after I had already been ordained and pastoring for years. The group of churches I was ordained in didn’t require formal seminary training in order to be ordained; they simply required 4 years of theological training, which could be received in an institution like a Bible college or seminary, or on the job, through apprenticeship/discipleship. I did the latter. I was encouraged that men like Peter were unlearned men whose training came from having been with Jesus.

When I had been a pastor for a few years, I began to really feel the desire to deepen my understanding of theology, church history, and the many other topics that are taught in seminary courses. A friend of mine turned me on to a great school in England, which I have been attending now part time for several years. I’m not doing it because I need a degree in order to become a pastor; I’m doing it to make myself a better pastor.

We need to train the called, not call the trained.

And I have to say – I think this is the ideal way; I believe that we should be training the called, not calling the trained. If someone has a calling on their life and an enthusiasm to serve the Lord, then why would we lock them up for 4 years and tell them to read a bunch of books before they can go out and serve the Lord?  That’s now what Jesus did. Read the first few chapters of the Gospel of John – you see people who had little to no theological understanding leading people to Jesus. The woman at the well went and told the whole town about Jesus. The man born blind simply testified to what had happened to him.  However, enthusiasm can only take you so far, especially as a pastor. The job of a pastor is to teach and the lead as a shepherd, and they need to be able to do that with understanding about God’s Word and people.

The Problem with Being Self-Taught

I know that many people would respond that one doesn’t need to go to seminary in order to get a theological education. Surely there are a number of books available, and if one is a disciplined student, then they can simply educate themselves while doing the work of the ministry.

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones is perhaps the greatest example of a master preacher and pastor – certain one of the greatest of our modern age. He was known by those who looked up to him as “The Pastor”. Dr. Jones never went to seminary nor had any formal theological training. He had studied to be a medical doctor, and later switched to Christian ministry, becoming a pastor. Dr. Jones is often cited as a perfect example of how one does not need to be sequestered in a seminary in order to receive theological training – it is possible to be self-taught.

Here’s the problem with being self-taught, which I realized years ago, when I desired to deepen my knowledge base and started trying to teach myself:  When you teach yourself, YOU pick what you want to learn and read. The great thing about being part of a seminary program is that I am forced to read and consider viewpoints which I would have otherwise avoided. Basically, self-taught people tend to read things which simply bolster the positions which they have already held.

For some people, being faced with views other than those who they already hold leads them to confusion and uncertainty. Certainly I have become a lot less dogmatic about things I used to be dogmatic about, because I more understand now the complexity of the questions and arguments. And it is this uncertainty which leads to confusion and disillusionment for many young seminarians who go to seminary because they want to know God more and because they have a passion for the Gospel and for serving others like Jesus did. They go to seminary hoping to be set on fire in a greater way and be given tools to minister effectively, and find themselves bogged down in discussions which bring into question things which they never thought were issues! And then the Bible becomes a book you read for school, and you hear people splitting hairs on seemingly irrelevant theological arguments, and it can easily kill one’s enthusiasm.

The study of theology is faith seeking understanding – Saint Anselm

As Anselm said: The study of theology is “faith seeking understanding”. And I believe it should be treated that way. Karl Barth taught that Christian theology should be an endeavor done by Christians who are committed to Jesus Christ. I agree with that. I also believe that if someone has a desire to serve God, we should encourage that, rather then kill it by making them jump through a bunch of hoops first. Let’s see who is called and then be diligent to train them, rather than training people to death and then asking them to be called and enthusiastic about the Gospel.

What do you think?  Seminary, or not to Seminary? Comment below!